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IUCN/SCC Otter Specialist Group Bulletin
© IUCN/SCC Otter Specialist Group

Volume 20 Issue 2 Pages 58 - 90 (October 2003)

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From the Chairman's Desk - December 2003

My final report for the second half of 2003 will focus mainly on South America, as I received no updated information from the other continents. The 'Giant otter people' were quite busy in 2003 and, from my point of view; there has been remarkable progress in improving the foundations for conservation of this species. The final draft of the Standardised Giant Otter Field Methodology is now under revision by Jessica Groenendijk and should be published in 2004. Due to the efforts of Jessica, Frank Hajek and Miriam Marmontel, and with the support of the Fundacao Brasileira para o Desenvolvimento Sustentavel, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Sociedade Civil Mamiraua, a workshop on the Standard Range-Wide Distribution Survey Strategy for the Giant Otter was held in the Brazilian Pantanal. More than a dozen Giant otter specialists from five South American countries joined this workshop and I had the pleasure of presenting the experience from ISOS, the Information System for Otter Surveys. A standardised range-wide distribution survey methodology is a vital tool for the documentation of the past, present and future distribution of the Giant otter, for the understanding of its conservation status (degree of reduction in its range), for priority setting, and for planning conservation programmes. It will also improve cross-border cooperation and coordination of research and conservation activities. It is planned to publish these guidelines in 2004 and to use them as a basis for fundraising activities to establish systematic distribution surveys.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society has just announced another concrete contribution to Giant otter conservation. Their children's colouring book on Giant otters 'Pepe, el lobo de rio' has now been printed and distributed in Brazil. Six years after it was first produced it has now been re-printed several times in five countries, always being adapted to local needs. More than 15,000 colouring books have been distributed so far. This really is a success story and it is hoped that many more children will be stimulated to share in the fascination on the Giant otters and the tropical rainforest of South America.

An import step forward has also been taken for the captive Giant otter population. In July 2003, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) officially approved the International Studbook for Pteronura brasiliensis. Dortmund Zoo (Germany) and Brasilia Zoo (Brazil) jointly hold the studbook and Sheila Sykes-Gatz (Dortmund Zoo) and Marcelo Lima Reis (Brasilia Zoo) have been appointed as the international studbook keepers. Improvements in management of the captive Giant otter population will contribute greatly to the conservation of the wild population of this species, through reduction of the threat caused by the taking of wild animals for exhibition purposes. By early 2004, the second edition of the husbandry and management recommendations for Giant otters, and the 1st edition of the Giant otter studbook SPARKS data set, will be available to everyone interested.

The increased interest in South American otters is also reflected in a report from Helen Waldemarin. On June 26th-29th 2003, the 2nd Brazilian Congress of Mastozoology took place in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais State. During this congress 13 posters on the Neotropical otter and four posters on the Giant otter were presented. These numbers document the increase in the number of research projects on these species in Brazil, considering that, at the last Mastozoology Congress, there was only one poster on P. brasiliensis and two on L. longicaudis.

For the latter species, Helen Waldemarin reports on several ongoing or new research projects. For example, the Projeto Mustelideos do Brasil worked on an evaluation of the attitudes of local people in the region of Ouro Preto in the Minas Gerais State toward the Neotropical otter, and also started awareness and education activities with the publication of a leaflet explaining the importance of aquatic habitats and of otters. A cooperation project was started between the Projeto Ecolontras (coordinated by Helen in Rio de Janeiro State); Projeto Mustelideos do Brasil (Minas Gerais State) and the researcher Carlos Benhur Kasper (Rio Grande do Sul state), to test possible methodologies for a standardisation of the distribution survey methodology for the Neotropical otter. They are undertaking surveys on rivers in these three Brazilian states and are trying to find the minimum distance that has to be surveyed to find evidence of otters, and if checking of one bank side is sufficient. In Colombia, Diego Andrés Arcila is carrying out a study on habitat use by the Neotropical otter and, in Mexico, Juan Pablo Gallo is studying the diet and distribution of this species in the Reserva de la Biosfera Montańas de Álamos and on the Cuchujaqui River.

I am especially happy about the efforts to standardise the survey methods for more otter species, as the German Association for Otter Conservation (Aktion Fischotterschutz) is also working on improvements to the Information System for Otter Surveys (ISOS). This now includes a digital worldwide UTM grid of 50x50km and 100x100km squares as a basis for homogenous and comparable distribution maps. We are also preparing GIS layers with topographic information that can be combined with these grids. The next step will be the development of a specific software tool to enable the transfer of distribution data via the Internet and to present the maps on the worldwide web. A first test version will probably be presented at the International Otter Colloquium in 2004.

This event will be the highlight of our activities in 2004. I really would be pleased to meet as many otter people as possible in Frostburg USA. Tom Serfass and his team are working hard to arrange a successful meeting. Those who have not yet registered should hurry up and visit the website http://otter.frostburg.edu for further information. There are several important topics to be discussed at the Otter Colloquium and the attendant meeting of the Otter Specialist Group. The preliminary agenda for the latter covers aspects such as the evaluation of the outcome of the 2001 recommendations, the revision of the OSG Manifesto, the Otter Action Plan, the OSG Bulletin, standards for survey methods, research priorities, guidelines for otter reintroductions, studbooks, and breeding programmes and husbandry guidelines. We will also have to look for a venue for (or more importantly, a person/organisation able to organise it) the X. International Otter Colloquium. Following from the colloqui in Göttingen, DE (1979), Norwich, GB (1981), Strasbourg, FR (1983), Santa Cruz, US (1985), Hankensbüttel, DE (1989), Pietermaritzburg, ZA (1993), Trebon, CZ (1999), Valdivia, CL (2001), and Frostburg, US (2004), we are still missing a colloquium in Asia. Interest from this direction would be very welcome. At the OSG meeting in Frostburg, we have also to discuss the membership structure of the Otter Specialist Group and, in particular, the nomination of the Continental Coordinators for the next IUCN triennium, which will be inaugurated at the World Conservation Congress to be held from the 17th to the 25th of November 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. I would be pleased if the national members and representatives of the OSG could agree on their recommendations for the nomination of their Continental Coordinators before Frostburg and let me know their suggestions as soon as possible.

The keyword IUCN reminds me that we will have to face another important task in 2004. Recently, the Species Survival Commission (SSC) released the Data Entry Module for the new Species Information System (SIS). The SIS aims to become a worldwide species information resource containing interlinked databases of species-related information managed by the SSC's network of Specialist Groups. For further information, please visit the websitehttp://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/programs/sisindex.htm. It will be our task to revise and complete the comprehensive data collection for all otter species. As a first important step, we will have to evaluate the Red List status for all otter species by March 2004.

As should now be clear, we are facing some great challenges in 2004 - and a lot of work for all OSG members. It is my hope that as many members (or more) of the OSG will assist in this, as was the case in 2003. At the end of this year I want to express my gratitude to all those who contributed to the work of the OSG and to the conservation of otters. For 2004 I wish all of you health, success and satisfaction.

Hankensbüttel, December 2003

Claus Reuther,
Chairman IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group
Aktion Fischotterschutz e.V.,
OTTER-ZENTRUM, D-29386 Hankensbüttel,
Phone: +49/5832/98080
Fax: +49/5832/980851
e-mail: c.reuther@otterzentrum.de

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