Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Otter attacks leave villagers tottering between fear, panic

Otter attacks have left a village shivering in fear. People refuse to step into Mulavur canal in Payipra panchayat near Muvattupuzha where a few bathers were reportedly bitten by the carnivores.

Around 50 persons were bitten during the last six months, said a resident of the area. Four persons received animal bites the other day, spreading panic in the area. In another incident, the animals bit off the heel of a lady who stepped into the canal, he said. It is in the five-kilometre-long reach of the canal that runs into Muvattupuzha River the presence of the animal, which is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, is reported. People are scared to step into the canal fearing animal attacks, he said.

K.R. Anoop, Divisional Forest Officer of the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, who had surveyed the animals in the South Western Ghats, said that the animals will not attack humans as a prey.
The dormant males, staying away from the groups, would have bitten the bathers. The animals move in groups and feed mostly on fishes. They also feed on hare, aquatic birds and snakes. There were earlier reports from Kadalundi in Kozhikode where a group attacked and killed a dog, he said.

Smooth Coated Otters are the ones mostly found in the Kerala waters. The presence of Common Otter, which was first recorded in 1937, has not been reported since then. Small Clawed Otter’s presence has been reported from the High Ranges of the State.

The aquatic mammal breeds in land and feeds in water. The animals may resist predators as a group, said Mr. Anoop who had also studied the animal’s presence in the Periyar Tiger reserve.

One fisherman died in Chalakudi River three years ago following the carnivores’ attack.
P.S. Easa, a wildlife expert with the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur, said stray incidents of the animals’ attacks have been reported earlier.

The animals come in conflict with fishermen when they try to catch fish from the fishing nets. The animals themselves may get entangled in the net in the process, he said. K.P. Shaji, Range Officer, Kothamangalam Forest Range, who investigated the incidents, said that the practice of dumping waste from slaughter houses and poultry farms might have attracted the animals.

As the animals, enlisted under the Wildlife Protection Act, enjoy legal protection, the Forest department is concerned about its safety.

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