In Uganda with Luke

Starting April 2021, the AON has started a partnership with Green Mountain Initiative to start the first official otter study in Uganda.

Determining presence of otter species in Uganda

Freshwater ecosystems are vital to the survival of a large number of Earth’s species, including our own. Unfortunately, freshwater ecosystems are among the most threatened habitats globally, and are experiencing the highest rates of species loss. As the human population continues to grow, so does the demand for land and water, further increasing pressure on wetlands.

This is particularly true in Uganda, where about fifteen percent of Ugandan land cover consists of wetlands. This includes five major lakes (Victoria, Albert, Kyoga, Edward and George), about 160 minor lakes, an extensive river system, and small dams and ponds. These wetlands exhibit extensive biodiversity and provide a wide range of ecosystem services for the local human communities. These communities depend on wetlands for their livelihoods, particularly for fishing and agriculture. 

In recent decades, habitat loss, pollution and an increase in the effects of climate change are all taking a severe toll on Ugandan lakes and wetlands, affecting the communities and numerous species that depend on them including otters. 

As carnivores that need healthy wetlands to provide abundant prey, otters are especially sensitive to degradation of freshwater ecosystems. An initial review of the published literature suggests that historically, three species of otter have ranges in Uganda: the African- clawless otter (Aonyx capensis), the spotted-necked otter (Hydrictis maculicollis) and the Congo- clawless otter (Aonyx congicus). Anecdotal reports of otter sightings in the area are the starting points for further research; however, little formal study has been conducted on these species in Uganda.

To address this knowledge gap, this study will be instrumental in establishing a pivotal baseline of otter distributions in Uganda. This work will also expand existing knowledge on the habitat preferences, ecology and threats to these three otter species, facilitating future research and conservation management in Uganda. It will begin by identifying areas of otter presence in and around a few lakes and swamps in southern Uganda (Map 1). As charismatic indicators of wetland health, otters can be used to draw attention to larger issues affecting the ecosystems they inhabit, including water quality, habitat degradation, chemical pollution from pesticide runoff, mining and tourism exploitation, high fishing pressure, and other anthropogenic activities that will have an impact on the river ecosystem. 

This study sets a precedent for otter research which can then be replicated around the region. Verbal surveys, although used primarily to get information and data, incidentally result in small scale outreach and capacity building, laying foundations for further research and stewardship for the species and their habitats in Uganda. This project is a joint effort/partnership between Green Mountain Initiative, the AON, Wild Otters Research and the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group.