Meet the World’s Tiniest Otter

Plus, where to see them in the wild.  
Asian small-clawed otters are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Photo: Elliot Neep/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

Otters have beauty and brains. With their slender bodies, velvety fur, thick necks, small ears, short legs, and webbed paws they look adorable, and they are also extremely intelligent. While aquariums around the world train otters to perform complicated tricks, their wild counterparts are known for their smart ways as well. Dr. Asghar Nawab from WWF India who has been involved with otter conservation since 2004, says that there have even been instances in Bangladesh and Pakistan where wild otters have helped fishermen catch fish. These semi-aquatic animals find a school of fish, swim in circles around them and lead them into the fishing net—for a food reward from fishermen.

The Asian small-clawed otter is a rare species of otter found in India. It is the smallest otter in the world at just about two feet in length. Very little research has been done on these animals, so it’s hard to estimate their exact numbers. However they are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, a study that records species at risk of extinction. Playful otters have been spotted near streams in the southern part of the Western Ghats and in the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve in Assam. Their numbers are dwindling because of the loss of their habitat to tea and coffee plantations and wetlands being reclaimed for construction.

Appeared in the November 2012 issue as “Clever Beauties”.

  • Natasha Sahgal is a traveller and writer. Her itchy feet take her around the world, making friends wherever she goes.

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