It started out as a normal otter poop collecting day, or so we thought.
Originally, we were heading to Diwar, a small island where we know of a resident otter family, but too much talking and laughing in the car had Atul uncharacteristically distracted and one missed turn altered our course to Aldona. Not to be deterred by this change of destination, we decided to survey Aldona for otter poop after all.
Atul, Twan (our Dutch volunteer) and I sauntered down the path and introduced ourselves to the fishermen by the water’s edge. “We study otters”, Atul told them, “have you seen any recently?” The fishermen’s faces immediately turned from hesitant to amused, “Oh you study otters? Have you brought the foreigner to show him around?”. “He’s a part of our team” we replied, laughing, to the astonished locals. They mentioned that they had seen 7-8 otters a week ago.
We looked across to the glinting, deceptively clear waters to where the fishermen had seen them and knew that we would in all likelihood find otter poop nearby since they had recently been here.
Smooth-Coated Otters in the mangroves prefer to defecate on manmade bandhs (retaining mud walls), so that’s where we had to look. The grass carpeted bandh which was our passage to otter poop was guarded by an unlikely foe. In our path stood a buffalo, tied to a nearby tree and defiantly standing it’s ground. Not used to buffaloes being hostile, we ignored it and tried walking past it. Big mistake. It charged at us, only halfwillingly, stopping to chew on a delectable shoot of grass but blocking our way all the same. The three of us tried begging, pleading, cajoling and finally even threatening it, but the buffalo stood firm and did not let us pass.
Dejected, we turned back, and caught the fishermen laughing their heart out at our pathetic attempts to get by a “peacefull” buffalo.
I’d like to think it was the dispirited look on our faces that made one fisherman offer his boat to us. Honestly though, they were just trying to amuse themselves some more and amuse them we did. Atul, never missing a chance at adventure, decided to take the fisherman’s offer and Twan and I ambled into the boat after him. With just one paddle, we battled the calm water.
Slowly we made our way, passing Sauron (the newly christened buffalo) on the bandh and rowed on to a clearing ahead to dock. Awkwardly we disembarked amidst low hanging branches of nearby trees that seemed determined to jab you in your softest parts.
Phew. Atul and I followed Twan as he climbed onto the bandh and walked further. Sure enough, our efforts were rewarded as we found the otter’s defecating area with lots of fresh poop that we collected. A family of Smooth-Coated otters seemed to frequent here. The still pungent odour of their leavings confirmed our speculations.
Happy, and stinking of fish, we retreated to our boat and rowed back to the fishermen with vigor. It might seem quite peculiar, but finding poop (otter poop especially) always raises our spirits. We even paused to wave happily to Sauron as we went passed it.
The fishermen seemed delighted about watching our whole misadventure but nevertheless smiled innocently at us as we returned.
Atul spoke to them a bit more about what our work is and handed them some otter stickers. That definitely pleased them enough to show us their day’s bounty.
Satisfied that we not only got some poop, but that we also made some fishermen friends, we got back into the car and found the nearest sugarcane juice seller to treat ourselves with some much awaited refreshment.