Threats to the Smoth-Coated Otter

This is largely from IUCN (1990) and IUCN Red List 2000 .


Although these otters are formally protected under CITES Appendix II, they are hunted for their large, velvety pelts, which find a ready market in China. As well as hunting indigenous animals, the illegal Chinese fur trade also receives skins from Nepal and Bangladesh, and from India via these two countries. The reason is obvious - the growing population is increasingly poverty-stricken and an otter pelt is worth many weeks' wages to labourers. In Nepal, otter skin is also used for collars and cuffs, despite nominal protection. In 2000, between April and August, 15 Smooth Otter pelts were seized from illegal fur traders by the authorities (Traffic, 2000). Again, due to poverty, any Smooth Otters still living on the Iran/Iraq border are subject to intense hunting pressure, which can only increase as the area is drained.

Habitat Destruction

The spread of population, and industrialization of the Far East has made a major impact on the Smooth-Coated Otter's habitat. Smooth Otters need large territories, with abundant food, and habitat destruction hits them harder than it does the more adaptable, smaller Small-Clawed Otter. Conversion of primary forest for logging, agriculture and settlement directly destroys habitat and necessary cover, but also leads to soil washing into rivers, silting up watercourses, and reducing prey biomass both by killing gill-feeders and burial. Large scale road construction has led to a rise in otter road kill. Widespread dyke and dam construction, wetland drainage and canalisation of rivers to control flash-flooding and for hydroelectricity has had a large effect - in Pakistan, even large rivers now remain dry for much of the year as water is retained in reservoirs, and areas formerly inhabited by Smooth Otters is now otter-free. Dens and bank side vegetation is destroyed during construction, being replaced with steep, high-sided, often concrete banks which otters cannot climb, and certainly cannot build holts in. In Sumatra particularly there is a lot of gravel extraction from river beds which again leads to silting of water, and obviously renders the watercourse uninhabitable for the otters. In many parts of Asia, expanding populations increase demand for firewood, and riparian brush and herbaceous plants are being used for that purpose. In Iraq, the Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli subspecies is threatened the by massive drainage that has occured there over the last decade, if it survives at all ( National Geographic News, 18th May 2001).

Good news about Maxwell's Otter

Water Pollution

Large increases in population in Asia has resulted in widespread use of organochlorine pesticides on food plants such as rice. Runoff is directly into the watercourses used by otters. Invertebrates are being killed directly, reducing food for fish, and hence diminishing the prey biomass available. Otters are also being poisoned directly by ingestion of pollutants during drinking, and indirectly via biomagnification of pesticide levels up the food chain. In India, Thailand and Indonesia, there has been an increase in the dumping of toxic, municipal and domestic waste, and detergent release into water, and thus the entire food chain is contaminated.


Many areas of Asia are very poor, and people depend more and more on the produce of waterways. Smooth Otters eat large fish (>15cm) and thus compete directly with fishermen (or are perceived to do so), especially in India, Bangladesh, Laos and Pakistan. There has also been a great growth in aquaculture, and Smooth Otters will naturally take advantage of a food source so conveniently dense and trapped. Over fishing also impacts the otters by reducing prey biomass. They also drown in fish traps.

Indigenous Use

In China, the liver of the Smooth Otter is believed to have medicinal use. In Burma, the sexual organs of male otters are valued, and in Nepal, the uterus of female otters is believed to cure illnesses. Otters are killed and their parts exported to all these countries for traditional medicine. In some parts of India and Nepal, otter meat is eaten. In Malaysia, cubs are captured for pets.


Like other otters, this species is susceptible to feline enteritis and canine distemper, and can also catch jaundice and hepatitis from humans. As people spread into areas where the otters live, bringing their domestic animals with them, and often not observing even basic hygiene, the risk of disease to otters increases.

Other Threats

All the threats above also lead to fragmentation of otter populations, increasing risks of inbreeding, or entire populations being wiped out because they are confined to limited areas and when conditions there become intolerable, they have no corridors to pass along to more suitable habitat. Past over hunting has also isolated populations, so that otter distribution is extremely patchy. This patchiness of otters, plus discontiguous habitat, can cause young otters to be unable to establish themselves in new locations, and restrict growth of populations even if other pressures are removed.

Smooth-Coated Otter