© Mohd Shahnawaz Khan

Smooth-coated otter

Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Smooth-coated otter

  • Scientific name

    Lutrogale perspicillata

  • Population:

    No countrywide population estimate is available.

  • Length

    1.3 meter (Total Body Length)

  • Weight

    7-11 Kg.

  • Status

    Listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

© Anoop K.R.
Otters in Periyar Tiger Reserve
© Anoop K.R.


Smooth-coated otter is characterized by a very smooth, sleek pelage. Their eyes and ears are small, the tail is flattened, limbs are short, strong, and the fore and hind paws are large and well-webbed. These otters have generally been described as fish specialist. They are strong swimmers and hunt in groups. When fishing they travel in a V-formation going upstream. Most foraging activity occurs in water and small fish are swallowed whole, but large fish are taken to shore. Males are polygamous, mating with up to four females. The females often dig their own breeding dens and maintain small family groups of a mated pair with up to four offspring.

Conservation Issues

Their numbers are said to be declining with few breeding populations reported from Corbett and Dudhwa Tiger Reserves and Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in the north, Kaziranga National Park in the northeast, Sunderbans, Bhitarkanika and Coringa in the eastern coast; and Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Nagarhole National Park in the south.

Major threats to Asian otter population are loss of wetland habitats due to construction of largescale hydroelectric projects, conversion of wetlands for settlements and agriculture, reduction in prey biomass, poaching and contamination of waterways by pesticides. Poaching for pelt and other body parts that are believed to possess therapeutic properties. Few nomadic hunting tribes eat otter flesh. Reductions in prey biomass (fish stocks) and infrastructural developments have led to disappearance of otters from the many streams and rivers which were once major otter habitats.

WWF-India’s Initiatives

WWF has established distribution and current population status in unprotected stretches of river Ganges and its major tributaries. Their occurrence was reported in Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary for the first time. There is a plan to develop an atlas on all the species of otters in India. This atlas will facilitate the conservation of otters at landscape levels.

Habitat and Distribution

Smooth-coated otter is distributed throughout the country from the Himalayas and to the south in India. It is sympatric with other otter species in the Western Ghats and the northeast India.

Smooth-coated otters are found in areas where freshwater is plentiful, preferring shallow and placid waters— wetlands and seasonal swamps, rivers, lakes, and rice paddies. Where they are the only species of otter, they may be found in almost any suitable habitat, but where they are sympatric with other species, they avoid smaller streams and canals in favour of larger bodies of water. Although they are often found in saltwater near the coast, especially on smaller islands, they require a nearby source of freshwater.
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