© Emil Barbelette
The International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF) has become increasingly concerned about the decline of many species of otter in different countries with many little or no government conservation support.

As recently as 2012, the Japanese Otter was officially declared extinct, and of the 13 species across the world, nine are declining in numbers.

In the IUCN Red List, five species are classed as Endangered and two as Vulnerable, meaning that they are facing a high or very high risk of extinction in the wild.

The Eurasian otter, the only species which we have in the UK, is overall classed as Near Threatened, despite recent rises in UK populations, but in Asia it is believed to be critically endangered.

Asia forms about 80 per cent of the geographical range of the Eurasian otter. In parts of China it is almost extinct and in the Changbaishan Mountain Reserve numbers went down from 1.2 million in 1975 to just 4 in 2012 - a decline of over 99 per cent.

There have been no sightings of the species since the early 1990s in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam and most of India. Even in Europe it is declining in some areas.

Conservation of otters depends on creating a greater awareness of their importance in the ecosystem and demonstrating how vital they are in wetland habitats, says IOSF. They are the ideal environmental indicator species - they use both the land and water habitats and so it is essential that both are in pristine condition.

This is important not just for otters but for all wetland species.

The IOSF is holding a series of training workshop for students, park rangers and government officials to encourage the next generation of otter workers to gather reliable data, encourage enforcement of legal protection and develop effective education/public awareness programmes within local communities.

The most recent workshop was held in Bangladesh in December 2014, where there is an urgent need for conservation as a result of an oil spill in the Sundarbans, home to Asian small-clawed otters.

In that region, 350,000 litres of oil were emptied into this pristine environment killing the small crabs and mudskippers that are prey for the otters.

Dr Paul Yoxon of IOSF says: "The Sundabans is a truly wonderful environment with tiger, crocodile, the rare Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins, eagles, kites and egrets.

"The need for conservation has clearly increased with the oil spill and the increasing human pressure, but until now no-one had been looking at the otters.

"Now this will change and with the care of the Bangladeshi people the three species of otter that inhabit this truly remarkable place will continue to survive.

"There is now a Bangladesh Otter Network to take things further and encourage more students to study otters and work on their conservation."

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