With the unrelenting summer heat drying up several lakes and rivers in the southern state of Kerala, the rejuvenation of a river by a local community stands out as a beacon of hope.
The sustained conservation effort by the residents of Thootha village has seen the return of a sight thought lost for nearly two decades.
Smooth-coated otters, after a long absence, have finally returned to the Thoothapuzha River.
The residents remember seeing plenty of otters romping among the grassy banks and half buried rocks of Thoothapuzha river before they suddenly disappeared nearly two decades ago as the river deteriorated under the effect of human waste dumping and fishing malpractices. In the past year, they were seen again playing and fishing at dawn and dusk, when the sun’s rays shimmered on the lazy waters of the Thoothapuzha river.
Otters are apex riparian predators in this river ecosystem, along with being important bio-indicators of the ecological health of the river.
Their re-emergence indicates that the health of the river has improved, there is plenty of fish to eat, and there is a natural habitat safe enough for them to breed. Something that is just as significant as tigers returning to the forest!
Their return was encouraged by the continued efforts of a local group at Thootha, which focussed on creating a better environment and reducing human activity in the water as well as along the banks. Gathering the youth and children of the village, the Thoothapuzha Samrakshana Samithi carried out a river cleaning campaign a few months ago. It raised the awareness of the community about its symbiotic relationship with the river, while stressing on the need for conservation of the riverine ecosystem .
“We have been working to stop open defecation on the river banks, and also dumping of waste,” said Nasser Thootha, a social and political activist. “We keep watch at night to prevent drivers from washing their trucks in the river. We have managed to reduce this by 80%, which is a major achievement. There was a time a few years ago when the river used to stink and even bus passengers covered their noses when passing over the bridge. Fortunately, it is not so today.”
Having understood that the otters need their space, the environmentally conscious villagers are trying to ensure that little waste finds its way into the river and detrimental practices like dynamite fishing and sand mining are stopped through their consistent efforts.
“A few years ago we managed to stop fishing from the river using dynamite sticks, and that would have improved the fish population in the river,” said C.P Hamid, a 45-year-old bus owner.
When dynamite sticks are exploded in a river, fish die en masse and float, making it easy for fishermen to harvest them. But this also destroys several non-targeted species and juveniles, severely harming fish diversity and productivity.
These consistent conservation activities have helped wild otters return to the river, a sure sign that water quality has improved.
The rejuvenation of the Thoothapuzha, even as the Bharatpuzha, one of Kerala’s most important rivers, dries, is helping maintain an important economic lifeline for several villages while also giving a new lease of life to these furry webbed mammals. By reviving the river, the villagers have not only gifted themselves a healthy environment and source of water, they have also gifted these gentle otters a safe home.
Know more in a video here:
The environmentally conscious villagers help wild otters return to the Thoothapuzha River
Posted by TheBetterIndia on Friday, June 17, 2016