Special, and Threatened

By Nora Swe 13 May 2014

YANGON — Researchers have discovered one of the rarest otters native to Asia at the wildlife market in Mong La in Shan State, suggesting that the species exists in Myanmar and is in need of protection.

Chris R. Shepherd of the wildlife organization Traffic, and Vincent Nijman of the Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, reported finding the skin of a single hairy-nosed otter in Mong La in early January.

The finding was released in a note published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Hairy-nosed otters are generally thought to occupy a range that includes southern Thailand, Cambodia, southern Vietnam, peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra and its nearby islands.

The only previous known record for a hairy-nosed otter in Myanmar is an animal taken at Gam Majaw in Kachin State in 1939, which is now in the Natural History Museum in London.

Myanmar is home to three other otter species. The small-clawed otter and the smooth otter are assessed as vulnerable by the IUCN. The Eurasian otter is assessed as near endangered. All three are listed as protected in Myanmar under a 1994 conservation law. The new find suggests that the hairy-nosed otter should also be listed.

Hairy-nosed otters were once widespread in many parts of Southeast Asia but have become rare due to a loss of habitat and poaching.

In Cambodia, the Wildlife Alliance is taking care of one rescued animal, named Pursat, in its sanctuary at Phnom Tamao.

The otters’ sensitivity to stress and pollution means that Pursat has been provided with a secluded pool enclosure. He is said to be “playful and energetic” while living on a diet of live fish to reduce the chance of toxins entering his system.

In the wild, hairy-nosed otters feed on fish and water snakes. They can supplement their diet with frogs, lizards, turtles, crabs, mammals, and insects.

Snub-nosed monkey

In April, a conservation group released video footage of a monkey in Kachin State whose existence was first reported only in 2010, and whose upturned nose hunters say make it prone to sneezing in the rain.

Flora and Fauna International (FFI) released a video showing scores of the animals leaping high in a forest canopy.

The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey lives in the Maw River area in the northern part of the state. There may be just a few hundred of the animals left, and the population is highly vulnerable to hunting, illegal Chinese logging and development.

Other snub-nosed monkey populations are known only in China and Vietnam.

FFI said that under IUCN criteria, the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey qualifies as Critically Endangered and is in need of government protection.

Program director Frank Momberg told The Irrawaddy that FFI has held discussions with the government about creating an approximately 230,000-hectare national park to protect the mountain habitat of the animal from illegal loggers.

The park around Imaw Mountain would also protect other endangered and charismatic species such as the red panda and the takin [a type of goat-antelope], Mr. Momberg said.

This article first appeared in the May 2014 print edition of The Irrawaddy.