Shedding light on three otter species of the Indian subcontinent

Significant data gaps exist with regards to the range and distribution of the three otter species in the region; the smooth-coated otter, Asian small-clawed otter and the Eurasian otter. We are hoping to bridge those gaps by encouraging you, your family, friends, and the entire public to participate in this project. You do not need be a trained biologist for this. We will help you develop skills needed to become a better nature observer, using which you can help us gather critical information.

Why is Project Lighthouse important?

As apex predators, otters play a major role in maintaining the balance in the ecosystems they inhabit. However, populations of all three species are currently in decline due to:

  • Threat of human development, including habitat alterations, for example dam construction, sand mining and more, which can result in loss of wetland habitats;
  • Human activities such as aquaculture or over fishing, which can result in a decline of prey biomass;
  • Pollution of both water sources and habitats;
  • Poaching for illegal trade, either in pelts, body parts or in live otters - as pets.

In order to mitigate these threats and sustain these populations we first need to have a better idea of each of the species in question. First we need to address the significant data gaps in the specific range and distribution of all three species. Any observational records from members of the public, either from the past or into the future can help us fill these gaps. The overall aim of Project Lighthouse is to:

  1. Establish and/or confirm otter presence (new/old range)
  2. Confirm historical records and current trends
  3. Provide data and evidence for conservation plans and species/habitat management.

How can you help?

If you / your friend or anyone you know sees an otter, or a group of otters (or hear anything about them that you think we should know), share the following 3 pieces of information to the Telegram / WhatsApp / Signal (# +91-70583-99856) :

  1. The location pin (for eg. Google Maps).
  2. Description of what you saw (how many otters, what they were doing, anything you heard about them from locals)
  3. Any image / video to support your sighting/story.

Please note, if the information is from the past, please add the year/month/date of the sighting as far as possible.
Caution : Do not publicise the exact locations of your otter sightings on social media as this can be misused.

To connect with us or ask any queries, send an email to: kshitij [at] wildotters [dot] com.

Steps to begin your otterspotter adventure:

  • Do I have otters around where I live? Get an idea of the current range of the three otter species

    Click on their images above for the approximate ranges of the three species. Note that the smooth-coated otter is the most widespread of them on the subcontinent, so that may be the one you begin your otterspotter journey with. Also, remember that otters live very close to water bodies (rivers, streams).
  • So what do these otters look like exactly? Get a sense of their physical features and size

    Before you go looking for them, you need to know exactly what it is that you are looking for. To help you, we have created this section which has details about all three species. Plus also look out for animals commonly mistaken as otters here.
  • How do I find them? Spotting otters and their signs

    Otters consume fish and crustaceans, live close to water bodies, and defecate (poop) on land. There are particular signs to look out for that indicate otter presence, these include scat (poop) (typically containing fish scales), paw prints and grooming sites. There may also be particular times more suited to having a chance for sighting them. Here's our help section for further details on these.
  • Get out! Field etiquette is important

    As you step into nature, there are certain things to be mindful of. This is not just for your safety, but to be respectful of your and the animal's habitat. This section will provide you with basic guidelines and a checklist to take when you are outdoors.
  • Ask We are here to help

    You may see or learn something, but are unsure. If you need any scientific guidance, message us on Signal / Telegram / WhatsApp no. +91-70583-99856 or email us : [email protected] We will get back to you as soon as possible.
  • Community Team up!

    Join a community of likeminded individuals at Project Lighthouse. (We've created a Facebook group to begin with). Lets start a conversation and learn and guide each other along. We encourage you to form mini otterspotter communities in your locations too… but be aware of field etiquette! We will also hold monthly live Q&A sessions to answer questions and give updates about this project.

Frequently Asked Questions

1Can anyone participate?
Yes, absolutely. This is an opportunity for everyone to participate and contribute.
2I don't know much about Indian subcontinent otters or sighting them. Where do I start?
Read through this page carefully, there is a lot of information available here in order to begin. Remember, otters are semi-aquatic, so if you have a wetland, river or a stream close by, chances are otters are present!
3Where can I see the results of this project?
Once we have collected substantial data, we will create a range map that will be updated every few months and made available to the public in a responsible manner. We will also hold periodic LIVE sessions (via social media) with the public, where we will share updates and answer specific questions! Note: we will not show exact GPS locations in the public domain, due to potential illegal wildlife trade occurrences, an issue associated with all 3 otter species.
4How is the credibility of the data ensured?
Like any citizen science initiative, credibility is based on number of submissions, as well as evidence (such as photos and videos). Our team has processes in place to corroborate all information as it comes in. For example, checks and balances are in place for all footage submitted. If there is any confusion about the species, then it will be reviewed by a number of specialists before a decision is made to use the data or not.
5Do I need to pay to participate?
Not at all. Participating in this project and learning to be an otter spotter is free. However, if you wish to fund any of our projects or contribute in any other way, you can find more information here.
6I’ve seen otters in the past and have photographed them. Can I still share this data?
Absolutely! Any and all data is crucial to Project Lighthouse. We are looking for present as well as past information, with equal fervour. So please do share this information with us.
7Will my name, location or data be revealed?
Absolutely not. We are not gathering personal information nor sharing it with any third party. However, in case we need to clarify your submitted information, your contact info is kept as part of our classified records so we could reach out to you. None of your data will be revealed to anyone for any purpose whatsoever. For more information please refer to our Privacy Policy.
8Can i submit other information apart from sightings?
Absolutely. While establishing otter distribution is the primary aim of Project Lighthouse, any and all information relating to otters will be much appreciated, particularly in relation to:

  • Poaching
  • Illegal Trade
  • Myth/folklore
  • Conflict issues

This is all important information and you can access the 'How can you help' section above to send it to us.

9 I have data of these species outside the subcontinent. Can I still submit this information?
Although we are focused on the 3 species within the Indian subcontinent, we would be interested in your information. The IUCN Otter Specialist Group has members working throughout the Asia region and the information will be sent on to them for species assessments in their specific areas.
10How are you financing this project?
We are currently financing this completely on our own, but hope to raise funds from individuals and well wishers to expand this, specifically towards equipment and travel for researchers. If you would like to consider funding this project (or contribute in another way), you can write in to us at kshitij (at) wildotters (dot) com, or make a contribution through this link.