CONVENTION ON THE CONSERVATION OF EUROPEAN WILDLIFE AND NATURAL HABITATS
Seminar on the Conservation of the European Otter (Lutra lutra)
Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, 7-11 June 1994
Strasbourg, 21 July 1994
4.8 on Page 73 - 76
THE STATUS AND HABITAT DESTRUCTION OF THE
OTTER (LUTRA LUTRA L.)
Faculty of Forestry, Karadeniz Technical University
61080 Trabzon, Turkey
The rapidly growing population and the technological expansion of human populations in this century are placing unparalleled stresses on the environment. Destruction of habitat and pollution, as well as unregulated harvests of wild resources have led to an increasing extinction of animal and plant species throughout the world.
Many environmental problems can not be solved on a national basis alone, but require a regional, or even world-wide approach. The efforts to resolve environmental problems will be far more effective if there is an increase in the exchange of information and the dissemination of research findings. Where an agency in one country has solved an problem, it should be possible for other nations to avoid wasting limited resources to arrive at the same solution. Successful programs should be copied.
Though our country has had a great variety of species of flora and fauna until the beginning of the 20th century, we can say that in the last 50 - 60 years this situation has changed speedily. Effects like increasing human population, unplanned and irregular settlement or urbanisation, misuse of land, deforestation, heavy grazing, technological expansion, use of chemicals, and various natural disasters such as flood, drought, forest fires, dried wetlands etc. have accelerated the collapse of natural resources.
As a result of all these, problems like environmental pollution occurred, and living conditions of game and wild animals have deteriorated. Besides deterioration in their living conditions, extreme and unconscious hunting has eliminated some species and brought some others to the brink of extinction. This has been one of the most important factors threatening the existence of game an wild animals (Erkan, 1987).
At present, protection works concerning endangered species an races have been going on in Turkey as well as in many countries and the importance given to this matter has been increasing day by day through the signing of agreements an contracts. The Council of Europe has prepared the Bern Convention for the purpose of protection of species and their habitats. Turkey is one of the countries to sign this agreement.
Among the preservation activities for races which vanish, there are the protection of certain important areas, the protection of some species by the prohibition of hunting an selling, the establishment of reproduction centres for some species, and the works to strengthen their wild population by animals bred in these centres.
The Law of Land Hunting No. 31 67 constitutes the legal basis for the protection of game and wild animals which have declined in the country. The duties which this law attributed to the General Directorate of Forests in the field of protection of species which have been vanishing, and their reproduction, an regulation of hunting have been carried out by the Generals Directorate of National Parks and Hunting-Wildlife. About 20 species of mammals and many bird species are protected, and hunting is forbidden. Because of the population reduction in the past 50 years, the hunting of the otter (Lutra lutra) has been forbidden since 1975. According to the rules declared by the Central Hunting Commission for the 1993 - 1994 hunting season, the fine for hunting an otter is 30 million Turkish Lira.
Status and Habitat Destruction
The otter can be rarely found on rivers, streams, fresh and brackish lakes, and wetlands in Turkey. In some locations, it is wrongly named beaver (castor) or stream dog. It is rare and still declining in Turkey as well as in Europe because of the causes familiar to everybody. The habitat destruction and hunting with modern guns and illegal methods may be the most important causes in the decline of this species.
Otters live mainly on the Coruh River and its many tributaries, especially on the parts that are covered with trees or bushes and away from human disturbance in this region. I gathered the following observations which proved the existence of the otter in the region.
* A fur was the hunted over for stuffing to the Faculty of Forestry in Artvin Province (located next to Coruh River) in October 1993.
* In spite of the hunting ban, two otters were hunted when they came to catch fish in the raising pools established next to Hemşin and Fırtına streams near Pazar and Çamlıhemşin, subdivisions of Rize Province. The furs have been preserved by the Director of Forest District.
* Recently, I saw the damage of otters in the trout (Salmo gairdneri) cultivation pool on Değirmendere stream in the vicinity of Macka subdivision of Trabzon Province. In 1990, one otter was seen on a dam formed by a landslide on another branch of this stream, after heavy rain affected people in spite of the benevolent attitude of the local press.
Otters feed largely on fishes, frogs, water snakes, crustaceans, water birds, eggs of birds, insect larvae, molluscs, and occasionally poultry and carcasses in Turkey. The evidence obtained has proved that the otter lives on many streams in Turkey, but the living conditions have been quickly deteriorating. For hundreds of years, widespread deforestation in this region has affected water flow and fish stocks in the streams. Therefore, it may be a short-term way of helping otters to let them catch fish in the raising pools established by the forest districts.
In the past, most of the forests were cut down for timber and fuel, and frequently burned and cleared for grazing and farming. At present, the remaining forests are under pressure of the same factors. The combination of fragile soils, steep slopes and high rainfall led to erosion, landslides, sediment-filled channels frequently flooding, and destroyed stream beds. Flooding is severe every year in the whole or parts of the region. In the Coruh Basin, erosion has exposed large areas of deep dry sands, dense clays and frangipanis with low infiltration, high surface temperature, limited moisture content, and low fertility. The watershed is in a deteriorated condition because of past deforestation to provide cropland and pasture.
The protection of living conditions in our country has been going on by establishing national parks, game animal's protection and reproduction areas and nature protection areas. Game and wild animals in the nation parks are protected against destructive effects such as human disturbance and hunting pressure (Erkan, 1987). There are more than on hundred game protection and reproduction areas, and game rearing centres, and in addition to them the Ministry of Forestry has established many areas, in which hunting is prohibited. There is not a separate area only for the otter, but some of the areas mentioned above include the otter's living areas.
Otters are indicators of healthy aquatic environments, as animals at the top of the food chain. Any measures, which successfully benefit this species will prove beneficial to the wetlands ecosystems as a whole (Kadlecik, 1993).
Reforestation and intensive soil and water conservation measures are the key components in similar areas throughout the world where forest cleaning and land abuse have caused erosion and flooding problems. Tree planting is the major land treatment. The severity of past erosion has precluded reestablishment of indigenous largely hardwood forests in may areas. The options on the soil stabilisation and food prevention are to treat limited areas intensively, achieving rapid stabilisation, and to accept a slower rate of control in the remaining areas, with less intensive site treatment but with the possibility to treat much larger areas with the same resources.
Small, intermediate and large channel structures should all be constructed as part of watershed programs ranging from upstream rehabilitation of badly eroded areas to downstream flood control and water storage. All sizes of structures have a potential for creating a more favourable hydrologic environment for riparian establishment and development (Debano and Schmidt, 1990).
Small channel checks, or gully plugs, have been used extensively as a treatment for rehabilitating badly overgrazed rangelands in the Coruh Watershed where extensive gullying has occurred. Past overuse not only reduced plant cover, but the associated run-off and erosion produced gullying in head water channels.
Also, it is important to recognise that construction of gully plugs by themselves will not necessarily lead to a healthy riparian plant community unless good watershed and range management practices are used on the surrounding watershed In some cases, good grazing management by itself is all that is needed to restore former riparian communities.
Improving watershed conditions involves implementing better range, timber, and watershed management practices, which sometimes may require supplemental cultural treatments to obtain adequate cover to protect the soil. In some cases, mechanical stabilisation of channels with gully plugs may also be necessary when significant gullying has occurred, although the should not be constructed unless good land management is implemented throughout the watershed (Elmore & Beschta, 1987).
It is increasingly important that land managers are aware of the opportunities available for enhancing riparian areas with different watershed practices and that the benefits and costs associated with creating, or enhancing, riparian communities be included as an integral part of any current or future economic analyses (Debano an Schmidt, 1990).
DEBANO, L.F. & SCHMIDT, L.J. (1990). Potential for enhancing riparian habitats in the south-western United
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ELMORE, W. & BESCHTA, R.L. (1987). Riparian areas: perceptions in management. Rangelands, 9:260 - 265.
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animals which races have been vanishing. Proceedings of the International Symposium on "Wildlife
Fauna in Turkey and in The Balkan Countries", 16 - 20 September 1987, Istanbul.
KADLECIK, J. (1983). Research and protection of the otter (Lutra lutra) and its habitat in Slovakia. Seminar
on The Management of Small Populations of Threatened Mammals, Proceedings, 25 - 28 October 1993, Sofia.
McDONALD, S & DUPLAIX, N (1983). The otter, symbol of our threatened fauna. Naturopa, 45: 14 -19.