KOTA KINABALU: A research outfit in Sabah has managed to capture for the first time on video an extremely rare hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) in the state’s east coast.
Danau Girang Field Centre said its researchers spotted a “strange-looking animal in the distance galloping along a ridge towards them” while walking along a river.
The team consisted of Cardiff University doctorate student Richard Burger along with Universiti Malaysia Sabah students and local research assistant Nazrul Moh Natsyir.
In a statement here today, the centre said the species had not been seen in Sabah for over 100 years and had been thought to be extinct until a single individual was captured on camera in Deramakot Forest Reserve in 2010.
Since then, there have been only a handful of opportunistic sightings recorded in Deramakot Forest Reserve, Danum Valley Conservation Area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
This latest discovery provides another glimmer of hope that the otter can still be prevented from going extinct in Sabah, the centre added.
However, the animal is still under threat from poaching for their meat and skins, pollution, habitat loss, and human-otter conflict.
Burger said he managed to quickly take out his phone to record the video on seeing the otter.
“We all stood still, and the otter just continued running towards us, before stopping to smell us from only around a metre away. It was absolutely amazing, and totally unexpected.
“I had never seen a wild otter that close up before, but when Leona Wai (fellow Cardiff University PhD student at DGFC) confirmed that it was definitely a hairy-nosed otter, I realised just how incredible this experience was for us.”
Wai, a Sabahan, is carrying out research throughout the state to better understand the ecology of the four Bornean otter species (smooth-coated otter, Asian small-clawed otter, Eurasian otter and hairy-nosed otter).
“This species is known to be very elusive and sensitive to human disturbance. Hairy-nosed otters prefer habitats that are not easily accessed by humans such as dense swamp forest,” she said.
“Therefore, it is difficult to spot them in the wild. When Burger showed me the video, I was very surprised and happy to see this rare species exists in the Kinabatangan.”
Wai is also a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Otter Specialist Group (OSG).
The hairy-nosed otter, listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List, and as Schedule II of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, 1997, is thought to be the world’s rarest otter.
The occurrence of this extremely rare species highlights the importance of the Kinabatangan as a “corridor of life”, the centre said.
The Kinabatangan connects the forests and mangroves around Tabin Wildlife Reserve with Deramakot Forest Reserve and other central forests of Sabah, creating a vital lifeline to otherwise isolated populations of endangered animals, such as clouded leopards, sunbears, Bornean elephants, Bornean orangutans and proboscis monkeys.
DGFC director Benoit Goossens said government plans for the Pan Borneo Highway expansion would create further division preventing wildlife from travelling freely along the entire river. The centre was also concerned about plans for a bridge at the Sakau river.