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ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)

Authors:
  • Monitor Conservation Research Society
  • Monitor Conservation Research Society
  • Wild Otters Research

Abstract and Figures

The illegal wildlife trade poses a direct threat to all four species as they are popular for their fur and increasingly for their supposed qualities as pets. This study is an analysis of otter seizure data during the period 1980 to July 2015 inclusive. This study was born out of a desire to understand the extent and scale of the trade involving all four Asian otter species, effectively facilitating future research and action plans. However, otter seizure data for the region were scarce and more often than not, non-existent. Nevertheless, based on the seizure records acquired, it can be concluded that the illegal otter trade is persistent and largely unchecked, despite otter species being protected across their ranges.
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ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE
An analysis of seizures in selected Asian
countries (1980–2015)
Lalita Gomez, Boyd T. C. Leupen, Meryl Theng, Katrina Fernandez
and Melissa Savage
JULY 2016
TRAFFIC
REPORT
Oer Specialist Group
TRAFFIC, the wild life trade monitoring
net work, is the leading non-governmental
organization working globally on trade in
wild animals and plants in the context of both
biodiversity conservation and sustainable
development. TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of
WWF and IUCN.
Reprod uction of material appearing in this
report requires written permission from
the publisher.
e designations of geographical entities in
this publication, and the presentation of the
material, do not imply the expression of any
opinion whatsoever on the part of TRAFFIC
or its supporting organizations con cern ing
the legal status of any country, territory, or
area, or of its authorities, or concerning the
delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
e views of the authors expressed in this
publication are those of the writers and do not
necessarily reect those of TRAFFIC,
WWF or IUCN.
Published by TRAFFIC.
Southeast Asia Regional Oce
Unit 3-2, 1st Floor, Jalan SS23/11
Taman SEA, 47400 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Telephone : (603) 7880 3940
Fax : (603) 7882 0171
Copyright of material published in this report
is vested in TRAFFIC.
© TRAFFIC 2016.
ISBN no: 978-983-3393-49-7
UK Registered Charity No. 1076722.
Suggested citation: Gomez, L., Leupen, B T.C.,
eng, M., Fernandez, K., and Savage, M. 2016.
Illegal Otter Trade : An analysis of seizures in
selected Asian countries (1980-2015). TRAFFIC.
Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.
Front cover photograph: Small-clawed Otter
Aonyx cinereus
Credit: N. Duplaix
TRAFFIC REPORT
© N. Duplaix
ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE
An analysis of seizures in selected Asian
countries (1980–2015)
Lalita Gomez, Boyd T. C. Leupen, Meryl Theng,
Katrina Fernandez and Melissa Savage
Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinereus
© N. Duplaix
Small-clawed Otter
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) ii
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgements iii
Executive summary iv
Introduction 1
Methodology 8
Results 10
Discussion 19
Conclusion 25
References 28
A ppendix A 30
Appendix B 32
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
iii
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We thank Wildlife Protection Society of India, Wildlife Alliance, e Endangered Species Import
and Export Management Oce of the Peoples Republic of China, Wildlife Institute of India,
ASEAN-WEN and Biodiversity and Forest Management Department, Ministry of Natural Resource
and Environment of Malaysia, Wildlife Conservation Nepal, Environmental Investigation Agency
International, and TRAFFIC regional oces for their contribution of data which made this report
possible.
We owe a heartfelt thanks to Chris R. Shepherd, Nicole Duplaix, Roland Melisch, Yannick Kuehl,
Richard omas and James Compton for their comments and contributions to this report. Lastly a
big thank you to the Fondation Segre for funding and supporting our work on otters in the region.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) iv
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
is study is focused on four otter species in Asia; the Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra, the Hairy-nosed
Otter Lutra sumatrana, the Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinereus and the Smooth-coated Otter
Lutrogale perspicillata. e illegal wildlife trade poses a direct threat to all four species as they are
popular for their fur and increasingly for their supposed qualities as pets. is study is an analysis of
otter seizure data during the period 1980 to July 2015 inclusive. is study was born out of a desire
to understand the extent and scale of the trade involving all four Asian otter species, eectively
facilitating future research and action plans. However, otter seizure data for the region were scarce
and more oen than not, non-existent. Nevertheless, based on the seizure records acquired, it can be
concluded that the illegal otter trade is persistent and largely unchecked, despite otter species being
protected across their ranges.
Overall, a total of 161 otter seizures were recorded across 15 countries in Asia between 1980 and
2015 involving a total of 5881 individuals. e majority (99%) of these cases was associated with
the hunting of otters for their skins in countries like China, India and Nepal. is trade seems
mostly to involve the Eurasian Otter and Smooth-coated Otter. It must be noted however, that in
general a large number (82%) of seized skins were not identied down to species level owing to
the diculty of distinguishing between the skins of the dierent species. is clearly obstructs
the ability to estimate the impacts of the otter trade on specic species and complicates the task
of prioritizing species of concern. While the seizures of otter skins has increased over the years in
terms of frequency, the quantities seized have decreased. is could be attributed to an increase in
undetected trade; or more worryingly to declining otter populations.
In countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, ailand and Viet Nam, otters are hunted to supply a growing
pet trade that appears to be mostly domestic, in which the Small-clawed Otter and the Smooth-
coated Otter are evidently popular. e emerging trend of otters being used as pets was further
hinted at through preliminary scans of social media websites (in both English and local languages)
and trade fora in which a ourishing online pet trade was discovered (e.g. Indonesia and Viet Nam),
in addition to an increasing number of seizures involving live individuals since the early 2000s.
e Hairy-nosed Otter was by far the least encountered species in this study, with only six
individuals seized between 2002 and 2008 in ve separate incidents. All the seizures of this species,
three of which involved skins and three of which involved live individuals, occurred in Cambodia.
Considering that this species is already under severe pressure, any level of trade is likely to pose a
signicant risk to its survival.
Overall seizure data for otters were scarce across the region preventing us from drawing any
rm conclusions on the extent of the trade. Nevertheless, it is clear that the illegal otter trade
is ongoing and most likely poses a signicant threat to all four otter species in Asia assessed in
this study. Further investigation is urgently required to establish a more complete overview of
the live otter trade, including extensive assessments of the online trade to enhance protection of
otters across their range. Based on this preliminary assessment of otter seizure data the following
recommendations are made:
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
v
RECOMMENDATIONS
CITES and other legislation
A study should be carried out to assess whether the up-listing of the three Asian otter species
assessed (Smooth-coated Otter, Small-clawed Otter and Hairy-nosed Otter) from Appendix II
to Appendix I is merited against the criteria under the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
All countries not already assessed as Category I of the CITES National Legislation Project
(i.e. India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Philippines) should improve respective national
legislations to meet requirements of CITES implementation, particularly in India and Nepal
where otter populations are in decline and where the international trade in otter skins is still
very much apparent.
All countries should submit reports of otter seizures to the Secretariat including a
comprehensive report of actions and outcomes as they relate to the seizures e.g. criminal
prosecutions, nes, etc. as this information is crucial in analysing levels and trends in the illegal
trade.
National legislation protecting wildlife in Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Myanmar should be
amended to include all otter species as protected species since distinguishing between the skins
of the dierent otter species is dicult.
In Indonesia, steps need to be taken to address the growing pet trade in otters, beginning with
the inclusion of the Smooth-coated Otter and Small-clawed Otter as protected species within the
legislation that would eectively ban the capture and possession of these wild animals.
Legislation in otter range countries should be assessed to determine loopholes in the law that
can be exploited to include otters in the illegal trade chain. For instance in Nepal and Singapore
wildlife clauses allow the harming, hunting and/or killing of otters on private land. Furthermore
human-otter conicts put high pressure on wild otter populations. Instead of legalizing lethal
action against protected species on private land, alternative measures for combating “pest” otters
should be rst investigated.
Law enforcement
Improved regulatory systems and their implementation in Asia are essential to curb the illegal
wildlife trade. is requires law enforcement agencies proactively to investigate and convict
those engaging in such activities appropriately. e IUCN Otter Specialist Group and TRAFFIC
are available to assist the relevant enforcement agencies in providing enforcement support and
training with regards to identication of otter species and body parts, including distinguishing
between the skins of the dierent otter species. Increasing the capacity of local law enforcement
has been shown to be one of the most eective pathways to curbing illegal wildlife trade.
In Malaysia, the Philippines, ailand and Viet Nam, while all otters are protected by legislation,
enforcement eorts need to be enhanced to protect otters from a seemingly growing domestic
pet market.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) vi
Future research
Further research by organizations such as NGOs and Academic Institutions into the status of
the four Asian otter species assessed in this study should be conducted in each country so as to
understand better the consequences for wild populations of the illegal trade.
Continued monitoring of the illegal otter trade by organizations such as TRAFFIC is needed
to build and expand on the current seizure database, including market and trade route surveys
in key areas to identify and analyse tracking hot spots, the level of trade, weaknesses in law
enforcement, targeted otter species and key uses (e.g. pets, skin, traditional medicine, food). is
should include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan and between these countries
and China; and in Southeast Asia where seizure data have been scarce but where otter trade
appears to be increasing i.e. Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, ailand and
Viet Nam.
Research into the online trade of otters as exotic pets in particular, but also for other uses,
should be undertaken by organisations such as TRAFFIC to better understand these new trading
platforms and their potential eects on otter populations.
Research by organisations such as NGOs and academic institutions is needed into the
stimulation of the trade in otters as exotic pets and of otters displayed in shows by ill-governed
zoos and aquaria and travelling menageries.
Research by organisations such as NGOs and academic institutions is needed into retaliatory
killings stemming from human-otter conicts and to what extent otter parts from such
incidences subsequently enter local and international trade.
Public awareness
Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are encouraged to raise awareness
in otter range States amongst enforcement agencies, local villages and shing communities of
the plight of wild otters, as a measure to curb illegal trade. is should include provision of
information about declining otter populations, the role of otters in wetland ecosystems — and
hence wetland conservation; and otters’ protection status, which oen prohibits their hunting,
trapping or poisoning.
Governments and NGOs, alongside agriculture and aquaculture extension services and
development agencies are encouraged to raise awareness about the non-lethal options available
to mitigate human-otter conicts.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
1
INTRODUCTION
Background
Otters are amphibious mammals (Order: Carnivora; Family: Mustelidae) that occur in both
freshwater and marine habitats. ey are characterized by a coat of extremely densely-haired water-
protecting fur, long sinuous bodies, attened heads and small ears. Considered top predators in
their habitats, otters are indicators of a ourishing aquatic ecosystem as they rely on high water
quality, healthy and unpolluted aquatic prey, as well as undisturbed, clean wetland habitat (Sivasothi
et al., 1994; Kruuk, 2006). Otters can be found throughout North America, Central and South
America, Europe, Asia and Africa. ere are 13 species of otters in the world and Asia is home to
ve: the Smooth-coated Otter Lutrogale perspicillata, Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinereus, Hairy-
nosed Otter Lutra sumatrana, Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra and the Sea Otter Enhydra lutris. e
latter occurs in some of the eastern coastal areas of the Russian Federation and has incidentally
been observed in northern Japan. However the species has been excluded from this study due
to its northern Pacic coastal distribution and for reasons of its very dierent past use and trade
dynamics.
Historically, the otter trade has had a global occurrence, with the Sea Otter skin trade in North
America starting in the 18th century and lasting until the beginning of the 20th century (by which
time reintroduction programmes were required to save the species from extinction) (Carlson, 2002;
Kruuk, 2006). It was the dense and durable properties of otter furs that made them so valuable in
the then ourishing fur business. e historical demand for otter fur has resulted in the hunting
of dierent otter species around the world, and has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands
of animals, driving several species to near extinction in many range States (Foster-Turley and
Santiapillai, 1990; Kruuk, 2006; Nawab and Gautam, 2008; Duckworth, 2013).
In South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan (Melisch and Rietschel, 1996), Bangladesh, India and
Nepal, illegal hunting of otters for their skin is ongoing and poses a severe threat to regional otter
populations. In addition, the killing of otters due to real or purported conict with sheries and
pond aquaculture has been reported from several countries in Asia (Melisch and Rietschel, 1996;
Melisch and Lubis, 1998). Early 21st century seizure data suggest that 20–30 percent of the Indian
fur trade then involved otter skins (Meena, 2002). Otter poaching on the Indian subcontinent is
largely aimed at meeting the high demand in the Chinese market (WWF, 2015). It has been found
that at least 50 percent of otter skins in China originate from India (Ghosh, 2005; Duckworth,
2013). Reports of otter furs being popular for sale in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and
other provinces of China have further been conrmed by Tsering (2005) and WWF (2007). Other
important markets are found in Japan, South Korea and the Russian Federation (Kruuk, 2006).
While little information exists on otter populations in India, it is known that intensive trapping has
resulted in severely fragmented otter populations that are now largely restricted to protected areas
(Khan et al., 2014).
A discussion group on the use of and trade in otters in Asia evolved in the margins of the 7th IUCN
International Otter Colloquium in Trebon, Czech Republic, in 1998 (Melisch, 1998). However,
the magnitude of the illegal Asian otter trade has only recently come to light when remarkable
quantities of otter skins were discovered during a joint study by the Environmental Investigation
Agency (EIA) and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) into the big cat skin trade in
China (EIA/WPSI, 2006). Openly for sale in local markets, otter skins were oen found alongside
Tiger Panthera tigris and Leopard P. pardus skins (in two years, no fewer than 1800 otter skins were
recorded on a single market). In China, these skins are used as outer linings of coats, to make hats,
to embellish traditional garments like the Tibetan Chupa, or as trophies for display during festivals
and sporting events.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 2
e popularity of otters, captured when young from the wild for the commercial pet trade seems
to be a recent development. In Indonesia there are at least 800 private otter owners (IOSF, 2014)
and observations of live otters for sale in wildlife markets in Jakarta have increased from incidental
observations in the late 1980s and early 1990s (R. Melisch, pers. observation from West Java) to
become more widespread over the past decade (Chris R. Shepherd, pers. comm.). Overall, records
of illegal live otter trade, including seizures of live otters in the region are becoming more frequent.
In 2013, 11 juveniles (six Smooth-coated Otters and ve Small-clawed Otters) were seized at
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (ailand), allegedly on route to Japan where they
were to be sold as pets (Shepherd and Tansom, 2013). is case represented the rst of its kind in
ailand. More recently, in December 2015, nine juvenile Small-clawed Otters from ailand were
seized in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam (An, 2015).
While these seizures mark a new development in international trade dynamics, the full extent of
the trade in live otters cannot be determined without including online transactions. For example,
a study of Indonesian online markets from January to May 2012 recorded 63 advertisements by 46
sellers with each advert involving one to four cubs (average 1.58) (Aadrean, 2013). In a recent study
assessing the trade of wildlife through Facebook in Peninsular Malaysia, otters were highlighted
as being particularly popular as pets with regular turnover rates (Krishnasamy and Stoner, 2016).
Internet oers have also occurred recently in Brunei Darussalam (Anon, 2014).
Occasionally, otter parts have been used for traditional medicinal purposes. Certain body parts are
believed to have therapeutic properties. For instance in India, otter blood is used to treat epilepsy
(Kruuk, 2006) and oil extracted from their fat is used to treat joint pains and pneumonia (Meena,
2002). In Cambodia, an otter’s baculum (penis bone), crushed and mixed with coconut milk, is
prescribed as an aphrodisiac (Dong et al., 2010).
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
3
Smooth-coated Otter Lutrogale perspicillata
Hairy-nosed Otter Lutra sumatrana
Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinereus
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra
© C. Benetto© N. Duplaix
© N. Duplaix© N. Duplaix
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 4
Asian Otter Species
Smooth-coated Otter Lutrogale perspicillata
e Smooth-coated Otter occurs throughout South and Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh,
Bhutan, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, ailand and Viet
Nam (Khan et al., 2010; de Silva et al., 2015) (Figure 1). Isolated populations of the species have
also been documented in the Middle East i.e. Iraq and Iran (Hayman, 1957; Khan et al., 2010).
e species has been found to be largely diurnal, group-living animals that occur in the lowlands,
mangroves, rivers, freshwater habitats (lakes, streams, reservoirs, canals, ooded elds) and even
rice elds (Osman and Shari, 1988; Nor, 1989; Foster-Turley, 1992). Its large size (up to 1.3m in
total length) makes it conspicuous and thus likely more vulnerable to human interference than
other species (Kruuk, 2006). reats to the Smooth-coated Otter include extensive habitat loss,
contamination of waterways and human over-exploitation of the speciess prey biomass (Rudyanto
and Melisch, 1994; Melisch et al., 1996; de Silva et al., 2015). Furthermore, the species is considered
a “conict animal” in those areas where it hinders the activities of local shermen and farmers
(Kruuk, 2006) thus “legitimizing” its extermination. Unquestionably, poaching only exacerbates the
impacts these threats already have on wild populations. e Smooth-coated Otter is particularly
popular among poachers for its pelt and meat. e Smooth-coated Otter is currently classied as
Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of reatened
Species and is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). is means that all international trade in the species is regulated
and can only take place aer the issuance of (re-)export permits by the relevant authorities.
Small-clawed Otter Aonyx cinereus
e Small-clawed Otter occurs across most of the tropical regions of Asia, ranging from
Pakistan and India in South Asia eastwards through Southeast Asia to Java (Indonesia), Palawan
(Philippines), Taiwan and southern mainland China (Wright et al., 2015) (Figure 1). is gregarious
species occurs in a wide range of habitats associated with the presence of a crab and mollusc prey
base, in small streams and rivers of forests, marshes and rice paddies and in mangroves and coastal
areas (Melisch et al., 1996; Wright et al., 2015). Small-clawed Otters face similar threats to the ones
Smooth-coated Otters face (PHPA and AWB-Indonesia 1994; Rudyanto and Melisch, 1994; Melisch
et al., 1996; Wright et al., 2015). Small-clawed Otters as well as hybrids (Small-clawed Otter x
Smooth-coated Otter) have been observed in popular shows in commercial aquaria and travelling
menageries in Indonesia (Melisch and Foster-Turley, 1996), likely adding to the popularity of the
species on the pet market nationally and beyond. e species is currently classied as Vulnerable on
the IUCN Red List of reatened Species and is listed in Appendix II of CITES.
Hairy-nosed Otter Lutra sumatrana
e Hairy-nosed Otter is the rarest and least known of the Asian otter species. Once thought to be
extinct, it has been rediscovered in parts of Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, ailand and Viet Nam
(Baker, 2013; Aadrean et al., 2015) (Figure 1). A recent observation of a skin for sale in a market in
Myanmar may indicate its persistence there as well (Shepherd and Nijman, 2014). It predominantly
occurs in undisturbed habitats such as peat swamps, ooded forests, lowland dipterocarp forests,
Melaleuca forests and mangroves and coastal estuaries (Sasaki et al., 2009; Baker, 2013; Aadrean
et al., 2015). Due to the Hairy-nosed Otter’s geographical isolation and its nocturnal lifestyle, it is
rarely encountered by humans. Populations are currently under immense pressure because of its
restricted range and continuing habitat loss (Aadrean et al., 2015). Other threats include habitat
pollution, prey-depletion and accidental hunting (as bycatch). Due to its scarcity, the Hairy-
nosed Otter is less frequently encountered in trade. However, whenever a specimen is poached,
the consequences for the species as a whole are naturally greater than with other, more common,
otter species. e Hairy-nosed Otter is currently classied as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of
reatened Species and is listed in Appendix II of CITES.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 6
Legislation
Otters are fully protected against hunting, killing, capture and selling in most range States with a few
notable exceptions (Table 1). ey are protected either by a nationally accorded protection status as
a threatened native species (i.e. the case in most range States) or by a law that prohibits the hunting,
killing, capturing and selling of any wild animal (e.g. Singapore).
Most range States have legislations that are believed generally to meet the requirements for
implementation of CITES (assessed as Category I by the CITES National Legislation Project).
e few exceptions include India, the Philippines (Category II), Lao PDR, Myanmar and Nepal
(Category III), meaning that national laws in these countries do not meet the requirements
necessary to implement CITES properly. Additionally, in some cases, national legislation does not
take into account non-native species. For instance, the respective legislations that implement CITES
in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, make it illegal to sell or trade non-native otter species.
However, it is not illegal to do so in Japan where domestic trade in “Internationally Endangered
Species” (Appendix I species) is prohibited but not for Appendix II species. is leaves species like
the Smooth-coated, Small-clawed and Hairy-nosed Otters, all of which are non-native to Japan,
unprotected once they have entered the country, as there is no regulation concerning their trade
within the domestic market.
e following table provides an overview of legal otter protection under national laws in selected
countries/territories in Asia i.e. those countries/territories in which otter seizures have occurred
between 1980 and 2014 (Table 1).
Country/territory
Otter Species Present
Protection
Status
Legislation
Notes
Cambodia
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Not protected
Not protected
Forestry Law (2002)
The Hairy-nosed and Eurasian
Otters are both listed as Rare
Species that are protected by the
Forestry Law (2002)
China
Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Law of the Peoples Republic
of China on the Protection of
Wildlife (1989) Class II
Hong Kong
Eurasian Otter
Protected
Wild Animals Protection
Ordinance (1976)
India
Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
The Indian Wildlife
(Protection) Act 1972
Schedule I & II
Indonesia
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Not protected
Not protected
Government Regulation No
5/1990 on Conservation of
Natural Resources and the
Ecosystem, Government
Regulation No 7/1999 on
Preservation of Flora and
Fauna.
Government Regulation No
5/1990 – wildlife falls into two
categories i.e. protected or
unprotected. Protected has been
defined as wildlife that is
considered endangered or rare
(uncertain how this is defined).
Government Regulation No
7/1999 lists species that are
protected in the country in
which the only otter species
included are the Eurasian and
Hairy-nosed Otters.
Japan Eurasian Otter Protected Act on Conservation of
Endangered Species of Wild
Fauna and Flora (1992)
Korea R. Eurasian Otter Protected Protection of Wild Fauna and
Flora Act (2004)
Lao PDR Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wildlife and Aquatic Law
(2007)
Nepal Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Not protected
Protected
Aquatic Life Protection Act
1961, National Parks and
Wildlife Conservation Act
(1973)
The Aquatic Life Protection Act
1961 makes provisions for the
legal protection of two otter
species i.e. Eurasian Otter and
Smooth-coated Otter (Acharya
and Rajbhandari, 2011). Under
the National Parks and Wildlife
Conservation Act, otters within
protected areas are afforded
protection.
Malaysia Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wildlife Conservation Act
(2010); Wild Life Protection
Ordinance (1998); Wildlife
Conservation Enactment
(1997).
Eurasian Otter (Southeast Asian
subspecies L. lutra barang) is
not listed as a protected species
in Sabah, thus only receiving
protection in gazetted wildlife
Government Regulation
No 5/1990 – wildlife falls into
two categories i.e. protected
or unprotected. Protected has
been dened as wildlife that is
considered endangered or rare
(uncertain how this is dened).
Government Regulation
No 7/1999 lists species that are
protected in the country in which
the only otter species included
are the Eurasian and Hairy-nosed
Otters.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
7
Country/territory
Otter Species Present
Protection
Status
Legislation
Notes
Cambodia
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Not protected
Not protected
Forestry Law (2002)
The Hairy-nosed and Eurasian
Otters are both listed as Rare
Species that are protected by the
Forestry Law (2002)
China Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Law of the Peoples Republic
of China on the Protection of
Wildlife (1989) Class II
Hong Kong Eurasian Otter Protected Wild Animals Protection
Ordinance (1976)
India Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
The Indian Wildlife
(Protection) Act 1972
Schedule I & II
Indonesia Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Not protected
Not protected
Government Regulation No
5/1990 on Conservation of
Natural Resources and the
Ecosystem, Government
Regulation No 7/1999 on
Preservation of Flora and
Fauna.
Government Regulation No
5/1990 – wildlife falls into two
categories i.e. protected or
unprotected. Protected has been
defined as wildlife that is
considered endangered or rare
(uncertain how this is defined).
Government Regulation No
7/1999 lists species that are
protected in the country in
which the only otter species
included are the Eurasian and
Hairy-nosed Otters.
Japan Eurasian Otter Protected Act on Conservation of
Endangered Species of Wild
Fauna and Flora (1992)
Korea R. Eurasian Otter Protected Protection of Wild Fauna and
Flora Act (2004)
Lao PDR Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wildlife and Aquatic Law
(2007)
Nepal Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Not protected
Protected
Aquatic Life Protection Act
1961, National Parks and
Wildlife Conservation Act
(1973)
The Aquatic Life Protection Act
1961 makes provisions for the
legal protection of two otter
species i.e. Eurasian Otter and
Smooth-coated Otter (Acharya
and Rajbhandari, 2011). Under
the National Parks and Wildlife
Conservation Act, otters within
protected areas are afforded
protection.
Malaysia Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wildlife Conservation Act
(2010); Wild Life Protection
Ordinance (1998); Wildlife
Conservation Enactment
(1997).
Eurasian Otter (Southeast Asian
subspecies L. lutra barang) is
not listed as a protected species
in Sabah, thus only receiving
protection in gazetted wildlife
Country/territory Otter Species Present Protection
Status
Legislation Notes
Cambodia Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Not protected
Not protected
Forestry Law (2002) The Hairy-nosed and Eurasian
Otters are both listed as Rare
Species that are protected by the
Forestry Law (2002)
China Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Law of the Peoples Republic
of China on the Protection of
Wildlife (1989) Class II
Hong Kong Eurasian Otter Protected Wild Animals Protection
Ordinance (1976)
India Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
The Indian Wildlife
(Protection) Act 1972
Schedule I & II
Indonesia Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Not protected
Not protected
Government Regulation No
5/1990 on Conservation of
Natural Resources and the
Ecosystem, Government
Regulation No 7/1999 on
Preservation of Flora and
Fauna.
Government Regulation No
5/1990 – wildlife falls into two
categories i.e. protected or
unprotected. Protected has been
defined as wildlife that is
considered endangered or rare
(uncertain how this is defined).
Government Regulation No
7/1999 lists species that are
protected in the country in
which the only otter species
included are the Eurasian and
Hairy-nosed Otters.
Japan
Eurasian Otter
Protected
Act on Conservation of
Endangered Species of Wild
Fauna and Flora (1992)
Korea R.
Eurasian Otter
Protected
Protection of Wild Fauna and
Flora Act (2004)
Lao PDR
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wildlife and Aquatic Law
(2007)
Nepal
Eurasian Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Not protected
Protected
Aquatic Life Protection Act
1961, National Parks and
Wildlife Conservation Act
(1973)
The Aquatic Life Protection Act
1961 makes provisions for the
legal protection of two otter
species i.e. Eurasian Otter and
Smooth-coated Otter (Acharya
and Rajbhandari, 2011). Under
the National Parks and Wildlife
Conservation Act, otters within
protected areas are afforded
protection.
Malaysia
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wildlife Conservation Act
(2010); Wild Life Protection
Ordinance (1998); Wildlife
Conservation Enactment
(1997).
Eurasian Otter (Southeast Asian
subspecies L. lutra barang) is
not listed as a protected species
in Sabah, thus only receiving
protection in gazetted wildlife
sanctuaries along with all other
wildlife.
Myanmar
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Not protected
Protected
Protected
Protection of Wildlife and
Wild Plants and Conservation
of Natural Areas Law (1994).
The Hairy-nosed Otter is not
listed as a protected species as it
is not recognized as occurring
in Myanmar (Zaw et al., 2008).
Recently though the skin of this
species was observed in a
market in Mong La although its
origin, whether local or
otherwise, is unclear (Shepherd
and Nijman, 2014).
Philippines
(Palawan)
Small-clawed Otter
Protected
Wildlife Resources
Conservation and Protection
Act RA9147 (2001)
Singapore
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Wild Animals and birds Act
(1965)
Taiwan
Eurasian Otter
Protected
Wildlife Conservation Law
(1989)
Thailand
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Wild Animals Preservation
and Protection Act (1992)
Viet Nam
Eurasian Otter
Hairy-nosed Otter
Small-clawed Otter
Smooth-coated Otter
Protected
Protected
Protected
Protected
Decree No.32/2006/ND-CP,
Decree No.59/2005/ND-CP,
Decree 157/2013/ND-CP
Table 1: Protection Status of Otters in Selected Countries and Territories
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 8
METHODOLOGY
Data acquisition
Records of seizures of live or dead otters, their parts and derivatives in selected countries and
territories in Asia between 1980 and July 2015 (a 35-year period) were collected and compiled.
Where available, information on otter seizures included date of seizure, country/territory or
countries/territories, location of seizure, origin and destination of products, seized item type,
quantity, and enforcement agencies involved.
Formal requests for otter seizures were sent to all relevant CITES Management Authorities in the
following countries/territories across Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, mainland China, Hong
Kong, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka,
ailand, and Viet Nam (refer to Appendix A for details). ese countries/territories were selected
on the basis of their previous involvement in illegal wildlife trade and/or their proximity to known
fur-trade hubs (such as India). Not all countries contacted however responded to our request for
data and those that did, not all provided data (Appendix A). Data on seizures were also obtained
from other sources, including TRAFFIC seizure records, various NGOs and open access sources
such as the Internet and other media. Any additional Asian countries1 where seizure data were
encountered during these searches (i.e. Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, the Philippines and the United
Arab Emirates) were also included in this study.
General trade data, including seizure data, were also extracted from the UNEP-WCMC CITES
trade database which is a collection of all records of import, export and re-export of listed species
as reported by Parties to the CITES Secretariat, required under Article VIII, 1979. Available data
on global trade in Smooth-coated Otters, Small-clawed Otters, Hairy-nosed Otters, Eurasian Otters
and unspecied Lutra spp. between 1980 and 2014 (as 2015 data were not available at the time of
this study) were downloaded from the CITES trade database (http://trade.cites.org). For analysis of
commodity types, the following labels were grouped as “skins”: “garments”, “hair”, “leather items,
“leather products (large)”, “leather products (small)”, “skin pieces” and “skins”. e following labels
were grouped as “body parts”: “bodies, “bone pieces”, “bones”, “carvings”, “derivatives, “heads”,
“plates, “shoes, “skeletons”, “skulls”, “tails, “teeth” and “trophies. e following labels were grouped
as “unspecied”: “specimens”, “unspecied” and “(blank)”. When counting recorded individuals in
trade, the exporting country’s numbers were used, except when such numbers were absent, in which
case the importing country’s numbers were used. It should be noted that only recently (i.e. February
2016) has it been made mandatory for countries to report illegal wildlife trade to the CITES
Secretariat. erefore prior to this, data are limited only to incidents directly reported by Parties,
which is unfortunately not always consistent or in some cases completely lacking.
All seizure data gathered from the various sources were compiled into one dataset and analysed
to understand better the extensive trade dynamics across the study area. Seizure locations were
mapped to help identify geographic points of interest for trade in the study area, and to inform the
need for targeted action to address illegal trade.
is report should be considered a precautionary analysis of the illegal otter trade across selected
countries/territories in Asia, as it is assumed that seizures analysed herein represent only a portion
of the actual trade since not all illegal trade is intercepted and seized and/or reported. To avoid
overlap between the various sources of data analysed, all seizures compiled during this study were
rigorously crosschecked to prevent duplication within the dataset. Seizure data were also omitted
where a credible source could not be veried or in cases where details were lacking or vague.
1
Asian countries” includes all those regarded as part of the Asian region under CITES
(https://cites.org/sites/default/les/eng/news/meetings/asia2004/Asian_Parties.pdf)
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
9
Scope of data
It must be noted that this study’s dataset is far from comprehensive. For nearly all countries/
territories included in this study, annual seizure records (national or CITES) are absent throughout
most of the 1980–2015 period. For some years (1982, 1983, 1985 and 1991), no seizure data were
found at all. ese data decits may be explained by several factors. Firstly, countries/territories may
lack sucient enforcement eorts, resulting in a small number of seizures and a higher percentage
of undetected trade. Secondly, enforcement agencies may neglect to report seizures, causing national
seizure data to be incomplete and/or absent. irdly, in some cases, national governing bodies
may be unwilling to share seizure data with third parties. Finally, because of the trade’s inherently
secretive nature, large parts of it are bound to go undetected, rendering it impossible to determine
its full extent on the basis of seizure data only.
e dataset shows that seizure records for the earlier years of the studied timeframe are scarcer than
more recent records. Besides the above-mentioned factors, this scarcity may be explained by the
unavailability of older documents and their absence from more modern open source facilities such
as the Internet. Other gaps in older records may be explained by the CITES-membership status of
the country in question. Some of the analysed countries only became signatories to CITES aer
1980. Prior to their CITES-membership, these countries were not obligated to report seizures to the
CITES Secretariat. e countries include Bangladesh (CITES signatory in 1982), Cambodia (1997),
China (1981), India (1976), Lao PDR (2004), Myanmar (1997), the Philippines (1981), ailand
(1983) and Viet Nam (1994).
e data gaps in this study lead to an underrepresentation of illegal trade records and stand in the
way of a comprehensive overview of the illegal otter trade, which is likely to be much larger than
the data suggest. Additionally, other potentially important illegal trade channels must be taken into
account. Casual browsing of trading websites has hinted at the importance of the Internet in the
illegal otter trade although a study of this was outside the scope of the current study.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 10
RESULTS
Otter trade and seizures
CITES data
In total there were 1110 registered trade incidents involving the four Asian otter species in the
UNEP-WCMC CITES trade database between 1980 and 2014. Aer checking for double- and
erroneous entries, the total of registered trade records was found to be at least 964, involving at least
43 692 otters. Of the 964 records, 6.7% (65 records) involved seizures, which were mostly reported
by North American and European countries (Appendix B). ere were only six seizures reported
in Asia i.e. Hong Kong (1), Japan (1), Kuwait (2), South Korea (1) and United Arab Emirates (1), at
least three of which involved Asian export countries (Table 2). Almost all of these seizures involved
small quantities of Eurasian Otter skins (averaging 1–2 skins per seizure). One notable exception
was a seizure of 100 skins, only identied as Lutra spp., which was reported in Hong Kong in 1981
and for which the country of export was not specied.
ere were an additional eight seizures where the reported origin of the shipment was an Asian
country (Table 2), most of which occurred in the USA and Denmark. ese seizures involved three
dierent species i.e. Eurasian Otter, Small-clawed Otter and Hairy-nosed Otter. In most cases, the
number of seized individuals was small; usually just one skin or body. e only exception being a
seizure of four Hairy-nosed Otter skins in the USA, which had originated from ailand.
Table 2: Reported seizures involving an Asian country in the UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database for otters from
1980–2014.
Year
1981
1985
1990
1992
1993
2002
2002
2004
2005
2005
2005
2006
2006
2010
Country of Seizure
(Importer)
Country of
Export
Species Commodity Quanty
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
11
In general, little international trade whether legal or illegal has been reported within the Asian
region i.e. the majority of the records in the CITES trade database were reported in Europe and
the USA. Nevertheless, while not reported as seizures, there were several records classied as
commercial and therefore legal trade involving Asian countries that stood out in terms of the
quantities of individuals, origin of the shipments and species of otter (Table 3). One remarkable
case is a supposed shipment involving 1000 skins of the rare Hairy-nosed Otter from Germany
to Austria in 1987, which originated from China. However, the scarcity of this species makes a
transaction of this magnitude highly unlikely and indicates a possible reporting-error. For this
reason, this particular case has been omitted from further analysis. In 1992, there was a large
shipment of Eurasian Otters (2656 skins also of unknown and therefore questionable origin) from
Hong Kong to mainland China.
Table 3: Reported commercial trade of otters (over 100 in quantity) involving an Asian country/territory in the
UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade Database from 1980–2014.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 12
Of the 964 trade records in the UNEP-WCMC CITES trade database, a large proportion involved
live otters (62.1% of all cases). However each of these transactions generally involved a small
number of animals (ranging between 1 and 10 individuals per record in most cases) which
amounted to 1568 live otters traded (~3.6% of the total quantity of otters traded dead or live).
e species most traded live were the Small-clawed Otter (49.7%) and Eurasian Otter (45.4%).
ese were reportedly mostly for zoos and captive breeding programmes and commercial trade.
Transactions involving otter skins made up 18.3% of the UNEP-WCMC CITES trade database
records. However, these transactions oen involved large product quantities; no fewer than
38 473 skins were traded, accounting for 88% of all traded products. e trade in otter body parts
was found to be comparatively small (14.5% of records). Both the skin and the body part trade
predominantly involved Eurasian Otters (in 64.2% of the cases). A small number of records (5.1%)
involved unspecied commodities (not labeled or merely labeled as “specimens” or “unspecied”).
Small-clawed Otter pups seized at the Suvarnabhumi International airport in Bangkok in 2013
© TRAFFIC © TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
13
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 19
Table4.Totalrecordedseizures19802015
YEAR COUNTRY TOTAL
KH CN IN ID JP KR KU LA MY MN NE PH TH AE VN
1980
1
1
1981
1
1
1984
2
2
1986
3
3
1987
1
1
1988
3
3
1989
1
1
2
1990
1
1
1992
3
3
1993
9
9
1994
4
4
1995
2
2
1996
1
1
1997
1
1
1998
1
1
1999
2
1
3
2000
4
4
2001
1
2
3
2002 3
1
1 1
1
7
2003 3 2 6
1
2
1
15
2004 10 1 1
1
2
1
16
2005 1 4 9
1
1
18
2006
1 5
1
8
2007 1 1 5
2
1
10
2008
1
1
2009
1
6
1
8
2010
1
1
1
3
2011 3 1 5
1
10
2012 1
1
2013 2 2 1
1 2 1
9
2014 1 1 6
1
2
11
2015
2 2 1
5
TOTAL 26 17 88 1 1 1 2 2 7 1 8 2 3 1 4 167*
% of
total in
the
region
15.6 10.2 52.7 0.6 0.6 0.6 1.2 1.2 4.2 0.6 4.8 1.2 1.8 0.6 2.4
*IncludedinthetotalbutnotshowninthetableareafurtherthreeseizuresreportedbytheWildlifeAlliancealthoughthe
placeofseizurewasunknown.Thesewerereportedin2005(2)and2006(1)involving10skinsoftheSmoothcoatedOtter.
 
Seizure data
Overall, a total of 161 otter seizures (which includes seizures recorded in the UNEP-WCMC CITES
trade database and one 2005 record of several illicit otter transactions in India) were recorded in 15
countries in Asia between 1980 and 2015 involving a total of 5881 specimens (Table 4), an average
of approximately 4.5 seizures per year with an average of 36.5 otters per seizure (and 163 individuals
per year).
Seizure records for earlier years were fewer, with only 38 recorded seizures between 1980 and
1999 (with an average of 1.9 recorded seizures per year and an average of 95 individuals per year
(~50 per seizure)). e number of seizures increases slightly between 2000 and 2015 with a total
of 123 recorded seizures (with an average of 7.7 recorded seizures per year and an average of
249 individuals per year) although the number of individuals per seizure decreases i.e. from 50
to 32 individuals per seizure. However it should be noted that both the number of seizures and
volumes involved spiked in 2003, 2004 and 2005, with the annual conscation of 939, 739 and 1124
individuals respectively (Table 5).
Table 4: Total recorded seizures 1980–2015
**Included in the total but not shown in the table are a further three seizures reported by the Wildlife Alliance although the place of seizure was unknown.
These were reported in 2005 (2) and 2006 (1) involving 10 skins of the Smooth-coated Oer.
*Includes one account of several illicit oer trade transacons which have taken place between 1980 and 2005.
6*
4
1
1
3
1
14
16
9
9
10
161**
398316
16.1 9.9 51.6 4.3 5.6 1.9 1.9
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 14
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 20
Table&5.&Total&number&of&otters&seized&19802015&
YEAR
COUNTRY
TOTAL
KH CN IN ID JP KR KU LA MY MN NE PH TH AE VN
1980
59
59
1981
100
100
1984
144
144
1986
505
505
1987
20
20
1988
192
192
1989
100
85
185
1990
170
170
1992
5
5
1993
234
234
1994
112
112
1995
50
50
1996
94
94
1997
13
13
1998
1
1
1999
12
3
15
2000
326
326
2001
134 5
139
2002 3
5
1 1
1
11
2003 3 818 99
3
38
2
963
2004
18
665
18
1
18
13
733
2005 1 267 906
1
2
1180
2006
4 17
1
29
2007 1 4 111
4
2
122
2008
1
1
2009 1
16
4
21
2010
1
1
6
8
2011 6 398 48
2
454
2012 1
1
2013
2
8
1
1
6
11
29
2014 10 1 22
1
10
44
2015
8 10 1
19
TOTAL 46 2407 3276 1 1 1 2 23 14 2 145 6 14 13 18 5979*
% of
total in
the
region
0.8 40.3 54.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.2 0.0 2.4 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.3
*&

&
India had by far the most reported otter seizures, with a total of 88 between 1980 and 2015, representing 52.7%
of all recorded seizures. Cambodia was the only other country with a large number of seizures (26) representing
15.6% of all those recorded. Regarding the quantities of seized individuals, however, India remained the
leading country, with 3276 seized individuals (54.8% of total), but Cambodia, with only 46 seized individuals
(<1% of the total), was far less prominent, with an average of just 1.7 individuals per seizure. Conversely
China, which only had 17 recorded seizures (10.2% of total seizures), reported a total of 2407 seized individuals
(40.3% of the total) between 1980 and 2015, an average of 142 individuals per seizure. China was followed by
Table 5: Total number of otters seized 1980–2015
India had by far the most reported otter seizures, with a total of 83 between 1980 and 2015,
representing 51.6% of all recorded seizures. Cambodia was the only other country with a large
number of seizures (26) representing 16.1% of all those recorded. Regarding the quantities of seized
individuals, however, India remained the leading country, with 2949 seized individuals (50.1% of
total), but Cambodia, with only 46 seized individuals (<1% of the total), was far less prominent,
with an average of just 1.8 individuals per seizure. Conversely China, which only had 16 recorded
seizures (9.9% of total seizures), reported a total of 2403 seized individuals (40.9% of the total)
between 1980 and 2015, an average of 150 individuals per seizure. China was followed by Nepal (9
seizures / 383 individuals) and Lao PDR (2 seizures / 23 individuals). Recorded seizures were low
with few individuals seized in the remaining countries (Table 4 and Table 5).
*Included in the total but not shown in the table are a further three seizures reported by the Wildlife Alliance although the place of
seizure was unknown. These were reported in 2005(2) and 2006(1) involving a total of 10 skins of the Smooth-coated Oer.
*Includes one account of several illicit oer trade transacons which have taken place between 1980 and 2005.
939
739
1124
118
439
39
5881**13383
33
29492403
40.9 50.1 6.5
612*
14
42
238
5
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
15
Neither India nor China (both of which topped the list in terms of recorded seizures and volumes
seized) reported seizures of live individuals, rather most of the seized contraband consisted of otter
skins (Figure 2). is was also the case in Myanmar, Nepal and Lao PDR, although the quantities
seized were considerably lower. Countries in which all seizures exclusively involved live animals
(reportedly destined for the pet trade) were Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam with 1, 14 and 13
individuals seized respectively. Cambodia, the Philippines and ailand reported a mix of live and
dead otters seized. Both the Philippines and ailand reported more seizures of live otters (i.e. 5 live;
1 dead and 12 live; 2 dead respectively) than Cambodia, where the majority of seizures were of dead
individuals (i.e. nine live; 37 dead). Only 4 seizures were reported in Japan, South Korea and Kuwait
and in each case only one individual was seized.
Figure 2: Percentage of dead vs live individuals seized per country
Note: dead = 5827 individuals; live = 54 individuals
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 16
Figure 4: Percentage of dead vs live individuals seized per year
e collected data show that the number of seizures increased slightly over the years, peaking
between 2002 and 2007 (Figure 3). ere was an average 53 individuals per seizure from 1980-2005,
while in the last decade this dropped to approximately 11 individuals per seizure. e trade in live
otters seems to have begun in the early 2000s (Figure 4). While the quantities of live individuals
seized are relatively small, they increased particularly in the last four years (2011-2014), averaging
six individuals per seizure whereas in previous years it was three to four individuals per seizure.
Seizures of live otters spiked in 2013 with 16 individuals.
Figure 3: Total number of seizures recorded annually and quantities of otters seized
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
17
14% 1% 0%
1%
2%
82%
Lutralutra
Lutragaleperspicillata
Lutrasumatrana
Aonyxcinereus
Lutraspp
Notidentified
Species in trade
In most of the recorded seizures, the otters in question were not identied or specied to the species
level (no less than 82% of all conscated individuals remains unidentied) with a further 1.7%
identied simply as Lutra spp. Of the individuals that were identied, most were Eurasian Otter
(824 individuals, 14% of total), followed by Smooth-coated Otter (79 individuals, 1.3%), Small-
clawed Otter (31 individuals, 0.5%) and Hairy-nosed Otter (6 individuals, 0%) (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Species distribution
Lutra lutra
Lutrogale perspicillata
Lutra sumatrana
Aonyx cinereus
Lutra spp
Note = total number of individuals = 5881
Not idened
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 18
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
100%
Lutralutra Lutragale
perspicillata
Lutra
sumatrana
Aonyxcinereus Lutraspp Notidentified
Skins Live Carcass&bodypa rts
Specimens in trade
An overwhelming majority of the seized contraband consisted of otter skins i.e. 5810 individuals
(98.7% of total). is was followed by live animals, 53 individuals (0.9%) and carcasses and body
parts with 18 individuals (0.2%). Sometimes shipments of skins included other body parts such
as tails and bones, but overall such commodities were rarely encountered. e Eurasian Otter was
predominantly encountered in the form of skins, whereas the Small-clawed Otter was frequently
found to be live (Figure 6). Of the 161 reported seizures, there were about 15 cases where otter
products were seized alongside contraband stemming from other animal species. e majority
of such contraband were the skins of Tigers (~ 40), Leopard (~700), and rhino (~ 185) as well as
the skins of small cats, civets, foxes, wolves and antelopes although the quantity of these were not
specied. ese mixed skin seizures were mostly reported for India (8), China (4) and Nepal (3).
Cambodia (1) and ailand (2) also reported mixed shipments but these mostly concerned the
bodies or parts of a variety of animals including birds, turtles, corals, etc. and included live animals
such as Long-tailed Macaques Macaca fascicularis and turtles which were conscated from local
markets.
Figure 6: Types of contraband per species
Lutrogale
perspicillata
Lutra
sumatrana
Aonyx cinereus Lutra spp
Lutra lutra Not idened
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
19
DISCUSSION
ere is a paucity of information on the illegal trade of otters in the Asian region. is is due to
the fact that wildlife crime is still a low priority for governments and furthermore, otters are a low
priority species for most conservation organizations. Seizure data were scarce for most countries
assessed in this study with the exception of India. is comes as no surprise considering that otter
poaching in India is known to be intense to supply a demand for otter skin/fur fuelled largely by
China (Ghosh, 2005; Duckworth, 2013; WWF, 2015). e real scale and scope of the Asian illegal
trade in otters is therefore dicult to determine. e inherently secretive nature of the trade means
that most illegal shipments go undetected. Additionally, the incompleteness of seizure data (due to
poor enforcement and/or reporting) stands in the way of any conclusive measurement of the true
extent of the issue. Wherever trade records are scarce, it is dicult to establish whether this is due
to actual low trade levels or due to a lack of reporting. Either way, the 161 recorded seizures in this
study are likely to represent a fraction of the actual illegal otter trade.
Otter species in trade
Identication of otters to the species level can be a dicult task. Untrained ocials may have
a hard time distinguishing between otter species, especially when dealing with skins and body
parts. It is therefore unsurprising that 82% of seized otters in this study were not identied to
the species level. Many of these were from seizures in India and China. is lack of information
should be considered problematic and obstructive to conservation eorts for several reasons, the
most important one being that whenever illegally traded otters remain unidentied, it becomes
impossible for researchers to determine which otter species should be prioritized in conservation
plans. In a similar vein, it becomes impossible to identify trends regarding the use of various species
for dierent purposes and the demand for the dierent species in particular countries. Nevertheless,
certain trends can be discerned from the individuals that were identied. All four Asian otter
species assessed in this study were found in trade.
e Eurasian Otter was the species with the highest number of seized individuals (824 individuals;
87.6% of all identied individuals). However, this was mostly attributed to one large seizure of 778
skins in China in 2003. e skins had originated from India and were in transit to the TAR along
with 31 Tiger skins and 581 Leopard skins. e CITES trade data conrm the Eurasian Otter’s
popularity, with the species being involved in most recorded trade and seizures. No live Eurasian
Otters were encountered in any of the seizures. Rather, all recorded seizures of the species almost
exclusively involved skins, conrming the species’s popularity in the fur trade. Given this species has
the broadest habitat range of all otter species, it will always remain dicult condently to establish
any seized specimens exact origin whenever such information is lacking from the seizure data.
Nevertheless, India and China’s well-established fur trade means that these countries are likely to
play an important role in the Eurasian Otter trade.
e Smooth-coated Otter is similarly traded for its fur. A large proportion of the seizures were of skins
and to a much lesser extent the carcass and tail. ere were also several seizures of live individuals
over the study period that were reportedly destined for the pet trade. Many of the seizures involving
this species were reported in Cambodia (70%), where they are coveted by locals for use in
traditional medicine (Poole, 2003). Such medicinal uses include the use of otter skins to assist
women during pregnancy and childbirth. ese practices may still occur in Cambodia, which would
mean that the traditional medicine industry, and increasingly the pet trade, pose signicant threats
to the Smooth-coated Otter and the Hairy-nosed Otter, the only other otter species seized there.
e Hairy-nosed Otter was by far the least encountered species in this study, with only six individuals
seized between 2002 and 2008 in ve separate incidents. is is not surprising considering that it
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 20
is the rarest otter species and was once even considered extinct (Aadrean et al., 2015). However,
remnant populations have been found in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, ailand and Viet Nam.
All the seizures of this species occurred exclusively in Cambodia. Of the six individuals seized, three
were live and three were skins. It is impossible to draw any conclusions with regards to their trade
and use with such a scarcity of seizure data. Nevertheless, given this species is already under severe
pressure, any level of trade is likely to pose a signicant risk to its survival.
e Small-clawed Otter appears to be a popular species in the pet trade. CITES trade records show
that nearly all legally traded Small-clawed Otters were live and destined for the commercial trade.
More than half of all seizures reported for the species were of live individuals, although in small
quantities (67.7%). ese seizures occurred in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, ailand and Viet
Nam. In India, the species is hunted for its fur and numbers have reportedly reduced drastically
over the last decade (IOSF, 2014). ere was one reported seizure of nine Small-clawed Otter skins
in India in 2014.
The fur and pet trade
A large majority of the recorded seizures took place in India, suggesting both a well-established
Indian otter trade, and comparatively eective local law enforcement (Figure 7). e remaining
seizures occurred in China and Cambodia and to a lesser extent Nepal and suggests that the
illegal otter trade is particularly persistent in these countries. All otter seizures made in this region
exclusively involved skins (Figure 8) and signicant quantities, suggesting that otters are specically
targeted by poachers to meet the market demand for otter fur.
Traditionally, the fur trade between Afghanistan and China (Melisch and Rietschel, 1996) as well
as between India, China and Myanmar, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lao PDR and ailand has been
extensive. Generally, otter skins are smuggled from India to China through Nepal. Past research
has illuminated important trade routes throughout India, Nepal and China (EIA, 2004; EIA/WSPI,
2006; Verheij et al., 2010; Stoner and Pervushina, 2013). In a 2004 survey, researchers found large
quantities of wild animal skins (including those of otters) for sale in Chinese markets (EIA/WPSI,
2006). More recent reports conrm the scale of this regions animal skin trade, with more than 1100
Tiger skins seized in the region between 2000 and 2012 (Stoner and Pervushina, 2013).
Figure 7: Distribution of seizures across selected countries in Asia
Source: TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
21
Nevertheless, a sudden decline in the number of recorded otter skin seizures can be observed
from 2005 onwards, suggesting waning trade levels. However, such a drop in seizure numbers may
simply reect weakened enforcement eorts and an increase in undetected trade. Similar lows in
seizure data have occurred before, most notably between 1996 and 2000, aer which seizure levels
rose again, reaching a peak between 2003 and 2005. Furthermore, recent reports have shown the
continuing extent of the trade in wild animal fur in the region (Verheij et al., 2010; Stoner and
Pervushina, 2013). It would therefore be too early to hint at a declining demand for otter furs and
continued vigilance is essential.
A greater concern would be if this drop in recent seizures is a sign of declining otter populations.
e illegal otter trade has already been attributed as one of the key factors that led to the extinction
of otters in parts of India (IOSF, 2014). Some authors suggest that their distribution in India may
now be restricted to protected areas (Meena, 2002). e same has been reported for otter population
in China where they were once widespread. e demand for fur and live otters resulted in the
near extirpation of the Eurasian Otter (Lau et al., 2010). Population levels of the species are still
considered very low in southern China, and populations are thought to be present only in well
protected areas (Lau et al., 2010). Poaching activities have also resulted in the depletion of otter
populations in Myanmar where they have been hunted not just for their fur but also for their gall
bladder and penis (Zaw et al., 2008).
In Indonesia, Malaysia, ailand and Viet Nam, otters are hunted to meet demand for pets,
traditional medicine, meat, trophies, etc. However, the quantities of otters traded are small in
comparison, which could possibly mean that otter hunting is opportunistic in these areas. e
seizure data in this study suggest that the illegal international trade in live otters is relatively small,
with no more than 0.9% of all seized contraband comprising live animals. It would, however,
be premature to conclude that there is no demand for pet otters. Indeed, CITES trade records
Figure 8: Seizures of live and dead individuals across selected countries in Asia
Source: TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 22
show that such demand exists (see Appendix B). According to these records, a large part of the
international trade concerned shipments of captive-bred live Small-clawed Otters. ese animals
were all reportedly destined for commercial trade. Based on the collected seizure data, both Small-
clawed Otters and Smooth-coated Otters are poached to meet demand for pet otters.
e recent spike in shipments of live animals suggests that the trade in live otters for use as pets may
now be increasing. is apparent increase is also evident in illegal trade records. e seizure data
show that the number of live individuals in illegal trade has been on the rise since 2000s. However,
as mentioned, the number of live otter seizures remains relatively small. is may be an indication
that the illegal otter pet trade is mainly domestic. Of all the seizures involving live otters, there
was only one incident where international trade was actually known i.e. the seizure of ve Small-
clawed Otter and six Smooth-coated Otter pups at Bangkoks Suvarnabhumi International Airport,
reportedly headed for Japan’s exotic pet market (Shepherd and Tansom, 2013).
Additionally, there has been a noticeable shi in the trade of wildlife from physical markets to
online markets in recent years (Anon, 2014; Krishnasamy and Stoner, 2016). Trading and social
networking sites like Facebook are used to advertise the wares of legal and illegal wildlife traders
such as Tigers, Leopards, pangolins, marine turtles and otters. More than 7000 wildlife products
from threatened species have been discovered for sale on online auctions, fora and classied
advertisements (IFAW, 2012). In 2015, ivory worth GBP500,000 was being advertised on 43 online
sites in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal (Krishnasamy and Stoner, 2016).
Preliminary scans of social media websites and trade fora have given us a glimpse at what seems
to be a ourishing online wild otter pet trade. While actual transactions may only involve small
numbers of otters, the frequency of such transactions appears to be high. A brief glance at the online
trade of otters in Viet Nam revealed at least 10 websites advertising otters as pets. In Viet Nam
otter seizures exclusively involved live individuals. is was the same in Malaysia. In a recent study
assessing the trade of wildlife through Facebook in Peninsular Malaysia over a ve month period
(November 2014–April 2015) otters were highlighted as one of the popular pet-species, recording
regular turnover (Krishnasamy and Stoner, 2016). e same was also found in Indonesia (Aadrean,
2013) and Brunei (Anon, 2014).
e online illegal otter trade is therefore likely to be substantial in both scale and scope. e lack of
online otter trade records forms perhaps the greatest gap in this study’s dataset. In order to establish
a more complete overview of the live otter trade, comprehensive assessments of the online trade are
urgently needed.
Legislation
Generally the Asian otter species assessed are nominally protected by legislation across most range
States. However, this legal protection does not always extend to all otter species that may occur in
a particular country. is is evident in Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar where all four otter
species are present but not all are protected. For instance, neither Small-clawed or Smooth-coated
Otters are protected in Cambodia and Indonesia. is is particularly worrying as both species are
exploited for the pet and fur trade in this countries. e lack of legal protection in place to regulate
trade of both species could exacerbate the threats to the species already in decline throughout their
ranges due to habitat loss and conversion.
In Myanmar, the Hairy-nosed Otter is currently unprotected by national legislation. is is mainly
attributed to the fact that this species is not recognized as occurring there (Zaw et al., 2008).
However, during recent surveys of wildlife markets in Mong La, a skin of this species was observed
Source: TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
23
for sale (Shepherd and Nijman, 2014). While the origin of the skin is uncertain, the authors believe
it to be locally sourced as wildlife found in these markets are usually brought in by local hunters
on a daily basis. Nevertheless, skins, parts and carcasses of other otter species were also observed
for sale in the markets (Shepherd and Nijman, 2014) despite them being protected species in the
country, indicating a weakness in law enforcement eorts or eectiveness (DLA Piper, 2015).
Myanmar’s CITES implementing legislation is classied as Category 3, which means that national
wildlife laws do not meet the requirements for eective implementation of the Convention.
In Nepal, three of the four otter species occur i.e. Eurasian Otter, Small-clawed Otter and Smooth-
coated Otter. e Small-clawed Otter is not protected but both the Eurasian and Smooth-coated
Otters are protected under the Aquatic Life Protection Act, 1961 which prohibits the capture,
killing or harming of wildlife listed as protected (Acharya and Rajbhandari, unpublished). However,
the Act does not apply to incidents that occur on private land. In the case of otters this may be
problematic because of the impact human-otter conicts can have on wild populations. Many of
these conicts are likely to occur on private agricultural estates. In such cases, the land owners
are free to do as they please with the animals, which may have serious consequences for otter
conservation. e Small-clawed Otter is aorded some level of protection in gazetted national
parks and other protected areas where the hunting and harming of wildlife is prohibited under
the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973. Despite this, otters are considered to
be declining across Nepal (Foster-Turley and Santiapillai, 1990; de Silva, 2011) and based on the
seizure data collected, otters are still being poached for their skins. Furthermore, none of the 383
individuals reported in seizures included species identity. is leaves an unprotected species like the
Small-clawed Otter especially vulnerable.
Similar human-otter conicts have been reported elsewhere in Asia, such as Indonesia, mostly in
relation to inland sheries conicts and perceived competition between humans and otter for sh
and other aquaculture species (Melisch and Lubis, 1998). Retaliatory killing of wildlife and the entry
of their parts into subsequent local and international trade chain has been reported for other species
(e.g. Snow Leopard in eile, 2003) although a potential comparative situation for otters is likely,
this hasn’t been further assessed in Asia.
e demand for otters from India persists despite its three native otter species being protected
by national law. is is part of a larger illegal wildlife trade problem, a result of laws being poorly
communicated, implemented and enforced (WWF India; Joshi, 2015). Moreover, the relatively
lenient punishments for these crimes (minimum ne: one year in prison and/or ne of USD75) fail
to act as deterrents, leaving otters and other wildlife vulnerable to poaching.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 24
Small-clawed Otter found in Mong La market in Myanmar
© C. R. Shepherd/TRAFFIC
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
25
CONCLUSION
ere has been very little research into the illegal otter trade in Asia. With all Asian otter species at
least classied as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, an inquiry into this illegal trade (its scale, scope,
and dynamics) remains a high priority. is report has provided a regional overview of the illegal
otter trade as a rst step towards an enhanced understanding of the issues. However, the signicance
of the impact of illegal trade on wild otter populations remains unknown for three reasons. First
of all, the true extent of the trade remains unknown; due to its inherently secretive nature the
estimates in this report are likely under-representative of the actual magnitude of trade. Second,
little remains known about the status of the Asian otter species. Uncertainty about their population
sizes, reproduction rates, and in some cases their distribution, makes it dicult to determine each
species’s resilience in the face of exploitation. ird, a large majority (more than 80%) of the seized
otters in this study were not identied to the species level. is clearly obstructs the ability to
estimate the impacts of the otter trade on individual species and complicates the task of prioritizing
species of concern.
All four Asian otter species assessed in this study were encountered in trade, albeit in varying
degrees and apparently for dierent purposes. e otter fur trade appears to be particularly
extensive in India, Nepal and China, where, judging by the large numbers of individuals involved in
some of the recorded seizures, it is likely to be taking a toll on wild otter populations. Even though
otter seizures seem to involve smaller numbers of skins in recent years than previously, they are
still frequent and there are no indications that the skin trade is waning. It remains unclear to what
extent otter parts enter the illegal trade chain following retaliatory killings nor how big is their use
in traditional medicine. Records of such practices are scarce, however, implying that they do not
frequently occur.
e live otter trade seems to occur mostly in Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, ailand and Viet Nam.
e popularity of otters in the domestic and exotic pet trade appears to be on the increase. is
could potentially be stimulated by display shows in aquaria and travelling menageries. e Small-
clawed Otter and the Smooth-coated Otter seem to be particularly desirable. Nevertheless, seizure
data suggest that the illegal international trade in live otters is still relatively small, indicating that
pet otters are predominantly sourced domestically. Additionally, the exotic pet trade seems to be
largely internet-based. Preliminary browsing of e-commerce websites hints at a blooming online
otter trade. More research into these new trade platforms is urgently needed.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 26
RECOMMENDATIONS
CITES and other legislation
A study should be carried out to assess whether the up-listing of the three Asian otter species
assessed (Smooth-coated Otter, Small-clawed Otter and Hairy-nosed Otter) from Appendix II
to Appendix I is merited against the criteria under the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
All countries not already assessed as Category I of the CITES National Legislation Project
(i.e. India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Philippines) should improve respective national
legislations to meet requirements of CITES implementation, particularly in India and Nepal
where otter populations are in decline and where the international trade in otter skins is still
very much apparent.
All countries should submit reports of otter seizures to the Secretariat including a
comprehensive report of actions and outcomes as they relate to the seizures e.g. criminal
prosecutions, nes, etc. as this information is crucial in analysing levels and trends in the illegal
trade.
National legislation protecting wildlife in Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Myanmar should be
amended to include all otter species as protected species since distinguishing between the skins
of the dierent otter species is dicult.
In Indonesia, steps need to be taken to address the growing pet trade in otters, beginning with
the inclusion of the Smooth-coated Otter and Small-clawed Otter as protected species within the
legislation that would eectively ban the capture and possession of these wild animals.
Legislation in otter range countries should be assessed to determine loopholes in the law that
can be exploited to include otters in the illegal trade chain. For instance in Nepal and Singapore
wildlife clauses allow the harming, hunting and/or killing of otters on private land. Furthermore
human-otter conicts put high pressure on wild otter populations. Instead of legalizing lethal
action against protected species on private land, alternative measures for combating “pest” otters
should be rst investigated.
Law enforcement
Improved regulatory systems and their implementation in Asia are essential to curb the illegal
wildlife trade. is requires law enforcement agencies proactively to investigate and convict
those engaging in such activities appropriately. e IUCN Otter Specialist Group and TRAFFIC
are available to assist the relevant enforcement agencies in providing enforcement support and
training with regards to identication of otter species and body parts, including distinguishing
between the skins of the dierent otter species. Increasing the capacity of local law enforcement
has been shown to be one of the most eective pathways to curbing illegal wildlife trade.
In Malaysia, the Philippines, ailand and Viet Nam, while all otters are protected by legislation,
enforcement eorts need to be enhanced to protect otters from a seemingly growing domestic
pet market.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
27
Future research
Further research by organizations such as NGOs and Academic Institutions into the status of
the four Asian otter species assessed in this study should be conducted in each country so as to
understand better the consequences for wild populations of the illegal trade.
Continued monitoring of the illegal otter trade by organizations such as TRAFFIC is needed
to build and expand on the current seizure database, including market and trade route surveys
in key areas to identify and analyse tracking hot spots, the level of trade, weaknesses in law
enforcement, targeted otter species and key uses (e.g. pets, skin, traditional medicine, food). is
should include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan and between these countries
and China; and in Southeast Asia where seizure data have been scarce but where otter trade
appears to be increasing i.e. Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, ailand and
Viet Nam.
Research into the online trade of otters as exotic pets in particular, but also for other uses,
should be undertaken by organisations such as TRAFFIC to better understand these new trading
platforms and their potential eects on otter populations.
Research by organisations such as NGOs and academic institutions is needed into the
stimulation of the trade in otters as exotic pets and of otters displayed in shows by ill-governed
zoos and aquaria and travelling menageries.
Research by organisations such as NGOs and academic institutions is needed into retaliatory
killings stemming from human-otter conicts and to what extent otter parts from such
incidences subsequently enter local and international trade.
Public awareness
Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are encouraged to raise awareness
in otter range States amongst enforcement agencies, local villages and shing communities of
the plight of wild otters, as a measure to curb illegal trade. is should include provision of
information about declining otter populations, the role of otters in wetland ecosystems — and
hence wetland conservation; and otters’ protection status, which oen prohibits their hunting,
trapping or poisoning.
Governments and NGOs, alongside agriculture and aquaculture extension services and
development agencies are encouraged to raise awareness about the non-lethal options available
to mitigate human-otter conicts.
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 28
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with notes on the commercial trade. Mammal Review 40(4):247–292.
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Meena, V. (2002). Otter Poaching in Palni Hills. Zoos’ Print Journal 17(2):696–698.
Melisch, R. (1998). Trade and Use of Otters and their Parts: How Large is the Conservation Impact? A First
Approach towards Consumptive Use of Otters in Asia. In: IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group. VIIth International
Otter Colloquium – Otter Conservation – an example for a sustainable use of wetlands by man. March 14–19,
1998, Trebon, Czech Republic. Abstracts. IUCN/SSC OSG.
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International – Indonesia Programme, Boggor. 80pp + maps.
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In: Gossow, H. and Kranz, A. (Eds), Otters and sh farms. Proceedings International Workshop Litschau 8th–9th
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46(1–4):367–375.
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TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 30
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 38
APPENDIX A
List of Institutions/ Organisations Formally Contacted For
Seizure Data
Institution
Type
Responded
Records
Bangladesh
BangladeshForestDepartment
CITES
N

WildlifeCrimeControlUnit
GovernmentBody
N

WildTeam
NGO
N

WildlifeandNatureConservationSocietyofBangladesh
NGO
N

Bhutan
WildlifeConservationDivision(WCD)
CITES
Y
None
Cambodia
WildlifeAlliance
NGO
Y
Yes
CITESManagementAuthorityofCambodia
CITES
N

WildAid
NGO
N

Coalitionagainstwildlifetrafficking
NGO
N

ConservationInternational
NGO
N

WildlifeConservationSocietyCambodia
NGO
N

China
TheEndangeredSpeciesImportandExportManagement
OfficeofthePeople'sRepublicofChina
CITES
Y
Yes
Agriculture,FisheriesandConservationDepartment,Hong
Kong
CITES
Y
None
India
EnvironmentalInvestigationAgency
NGO
Y
None
TRAFFICoffice
NGO
N

WildlifeInstituteofIndia
Academic
Y
Yes
MinistryofEnvironmentandForests
CITES
N

WildlifeCrimeControlBureau
GovernmentBody
N

WildlifeResearchandConservationSociety
NGO
Y
None
TheMountainInstituteIndia
NGO
N

WildlifeProtectionSocietyofIndia
NGO
Y
None
Indonesia
MinistryofAgriculture
CITES
N

Fauna&FloraInternationalSumatra
NGO
LaoPDR
LaosWildlifeRescueCenter
NGO
N

MinistryofAgricultureandForestry
CITES
N

APPENDIX A
List of Institutions/Organisations Formally Contacted For Seizure Data
Yes
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
31
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 39
Malaysia
ASEANWENandBiodiversityandForestManagement
Department
CITES
Y
Yes
DepartmentofWildlifeandNationalParksPeninsular
Malaysia
GovernmentBody
N

SabahWildlifeDepartment
GovernmentBody
N

ForestDepartmentSarawak
GovernmentBody
N

NCB/InterpolMalaysia
GovernmentBody
N

RoyalMalaysianCustoms
Customs
Y
None
Myanmar
ForestDepartment,MinistryofEnvironmental
ConservationandForestry
CITES
Y
None
NatureandWildlifeConservationDivision
GovernmentBody
N

Nepal
WildlifeConservationNepal
NGO
Y
Yes
DepartmentofNationalParksandWildlifeConservation
CITES
N

TheMountainInstituteHimalayanPrograminNepal
NGO
Y
None
Pakistan
MinistryofClimateChangeGovernmentofPakistan
CITES
Y
None
Singapore
AgriFood&VeterinaryAuthority
CITES
Y
None
SriLanka
DepartmentofWildlifeConservation
CITES
N
None
Thailand
FreelandBangkokbasedcountertraffickingorganization
NGO
Y
None
Customs
GovernmentBody
N

Thailand’sDepartmentofNationalParks,Wildlifeand
PlantConservation
CITES
N

Vietnam
WildlifeVietNamCITESManagementAuthority
CITES
N

Othersources
Asia’sRegionalResponsetoEndangeredSpecies
Trafficking(ARREST)Program
AprogrammebyaUS
GovernmentBody
N

ASEANCentreforBiodiversity
IntergovernmentalBody
N

WildlifeAsia
NGO
Y
None
SouthAsiaWildlifeEnforcementNetwork
IntergovernmentalBody
N

TibetNaturalEnvironmentConservationNetwork
NGO
N

ASEANWENProgramCoordinationUnit
IntergovernmentalBody
N

PerthZoo,Australia
Zoo
Y
None
EnvironmentalInvestigationAgencyInternational
NGO
Y
Yes
TRAFFICEastAsia
NGO
Y
Yes
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 38
APPENDIX A
List of Institutions/ Organisations Formally Contacted For
Seizure Data
Institution
Type
Responded
Records
Bangladesh
BangladeshForestDepartmentCITESN 
WildlifeCrimeControlUnitGovernmentBodyN 
WildTeamNGON 
WildlifeandNatureConservationSocietyofBangladeshNGON 
Bhutan  
WildlifeConservationDivision(WCD)CITESY None
Cambodia  
WildlifeAllianceNGOY Yes
CITESManagementAuthorityofCambodiaCITESN 
WildAidNGON 
CoalitionagainstwildlifetraffickingNGON 
ConservationInternationalNGON 
WildlifeConservationSocietyCambodiaNGON 
China  
TheEndangeredSpeciesImportandExportManagement
OfficeofthePeople'sRepublicofChina
CITESY Yes
Agriculture,FisheriesandConservationDepartment,Hong
Kong
CITESY None
India  
EnvironmentalInvestigationAgencyNGOY None
TRAFFICofficeNGON 
WildlifeInstituteofIndiaAcademicY Yes
MinistryofEnvironmentandForestsCITESN 
WildlifeCrimeControlBureauGovernmentBodyN 
WildlifeResearchandConservationSocietyNGOY None
TheMountainInstituteIndiaNGON 
WildlifeProtectionSocietyofIndiaNGOY None
Indonesia  
MinistryofAgricultureCITESN 
Fauna&FloraInternationalSumatraNGO  
LaoPDR  
LaosWildlifeRescueCenterNGON 
MinistryofAgricultureandForestryCITESN 
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015) 32
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 40
APPENDIX B
CITES Trade Data Otter Seizures, Global (19802014)
Year
CountryofSeizure
(Importer)
CountryofExport
Species
Commodity
Quantity
1981
HongKong
Unknown
Lutraspp.
skins
100
1985
USA
Singapore
Lutralutra
skin
1
1988
Canada
USA
Lutraspp.
skin
1
1989
USA
Bolivia
Lutralutra
skin
1
1990
USA
R.Korea
Lutraspp.
skin
1
1991
USA
Mexico
Lutraspp.
skins
3
1992
USA
D.R.Congo
Lutraspp.
skin
1
1992
USA
Thailand
Lutrasumatrana
skins
4
1992
USA
FormerSovietUnion(Europe)
Lutralutra
skins
150
1993
Austria
CzechRepublic
Lutralutra
body
1
1993
USA
VietNam
Aonyxcinerea
body
1
1993
USA
Unknown
Lutraspp.
skins
6
1994
USA
Argentina
Lutraspp.
garments
3
1994
USA
Ecuador
Lutraspp.
skins
6
1995
USA
Greece
Lutraspp.
skin
1
1997
USA
RussianFederation
Lutralutra
bodies
2
1998
Austria
CzechRepublic
Lutralutra
live
1
1998
Netherlands
Greece
Lutralutra
skin
1
1999
USA
Canada
Lutraspp
body
1
1999
USA
Canada
Lutraspp
garments
2
1999
USA
Canada
Lutraspp
notspecified
1
2000
USA
RussianFederation
Lutralutra
garment
1
2001
Denmark
Estonia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2001
Denmark
Estonia
Lutralutra
trophies
3
2001
Estonia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skins
2
2001
Estonia
Denmark
Lutralutra
trophies
6
2001
Estonia
Latvia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2001
Latvia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2001
USA
Unknown
Lutraspp.
body
1
2002
Denmark
Estonia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2002
Estonia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skins
2
2002
Estonia
Latvia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2002
Japan
R.Korea
Lutralutra
skin
1
2002
R.Korea
Japan
Lutralutra
specimen
1
2002
Latvia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skins
2
2002
Latvia
Estonia
Lutralutra
skins
2
APPENDIX B
CITES Trade Data – Otter Seizures, Global (1980–2014)
TRAFFIC Report: Illegal otter trade: An analysis of seizures in selected Asian countries (1980–2015)
33
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 40
APPENDIX B
CITES Trade Data Otter Seizures, Global (19802014)
Year
CountryofSeizure
(Importer)
CountryofExport
Species
Commodity
Quantity
1981
HongKong
Unknown
Lutraspp.
skins
100
1985USA SingaporeLutralutraskin1
1988CanadaUSA Lutraspp.skin1
1989USA BoliviaLutralutraskin1
1990USA R.KoreaLutraspp.skin1
1991USA MexicoLutraspp.skins 3
1992USA D.R.CongoLutraspp.skin1
1992USA ThailandLutrasumatranaskins 4
1992USA FormerSovietUnion(Europe)Lutralutraskins 150
1993AustriaCzechRepublicLutralutrabody1
1993USA VietNamAonyxcinereabody1
1993USA UnknownLutraspp.skins 6
1994USA ArgentinaLutraspp.garments 3
1994USA EcuadorLutraspp.skins 6
1995USA GreeceLutraspp.skin1
1997USA RussianFederationLutralutrabodies2
1998AustriaCzechRepublicLutralutralive1
1998NetherlandsGreeceLutralutraskin1
1999USA CanadaLutrasppbody1
1999USA CanadaLutrasppgarments 2
1999USA CanadaLutrasppnotspecified1
2000USA RussianFederationLutralutragarment1
2001DenmarkEstoniaLutralutraskin1
2001DenmarkEstoniaLutralutratrophies3
2001EstoniaDenmarkLutralutraskins 2
2001EstoniaDenmarkLutralutratrophies6
2001EstoniaLatviaLutralutraskin1
2001LatviaDenmarkLutralutraskin1
2001USA UnknownLutraspp.body1
2002DenmarkEstoniaLutralutraskin1
2002EstoniaDenmarkLutralutraskins 2
2002EstoniaLatviaLutralutraskin1
2002JapanR.KoreaLutralutraskin1
2002R.KoreaJapanLutralutraspecimen1
2002LatviaDenmarkLutralutraskins 2
2002LatviaEstoniaLutralutraskins 2
TRAFFIC REPORT: THE ILLEGAL OTTER TRADE IN SELECTED ASIAN COUNTRIES 1980 -
2015 41
2002
Latvia
Estonia
Lutralutra
trophies
3
2002
Slovakia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2002
Slovakia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2002
USA
NetherlandsAntilles
Lutralutra
garment
1
2002
Canada
USA
Lutraspp.
skull
1
2003
Denmark
Croatia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2003
Denmark
Slovakia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2003
Croatia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2003
Hungary
Slovakia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2003
Slovakia
Hungary
Lutralutra
skin
1
2003
USA
RussianFederation
Lutralutra
skin
1
2004
USA
RussianFederation
Lutraspp.
garment
1
2004
UnitedArabEmirates
Afghanistan
Lutralutra
skins
13
2004
Denmark
Croatia
Lutralutra
skin
1
2004
Denmark
UnitedArabEmirates
Lutralutra
skin
1
2004
Croatia
Denmark
Lutralutra
skins
2
2004
UnitedArabEmirates
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2004
USA
GreatBritain
Lutralutra
body
1
2005
Denmark
Kuwait
Lutralutra
skin
1
2005
Kuwait
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2005
USA
China
Lutralutra
hair(skins)
3
2006
Denmark
Kuwait
Lutralutra
skin
1
2006
Kuwait
Denmark
Lutralutra
skin
1
2006
USA
UnitedArabEmirates
Lutralutra
skin
1
2010
USA
Italy
Lutralutra
teeth
8
2010
Poland
UnitedArabEmirates
Lutralutra
body
1
2010
CzechRepublic
VietNam
Aonyxcinerea*
skin
1
2011
USA
Denmark
Lutraspp
hair/skin?
1
2014
USA
Canada
Lutralutra
Skin
1
* Aonyx cinerea is a synonym to Aonyx cinereus, see taxonomic reference under
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/44166/0
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network,
is the leading non-governmental organization
working globally on trade in wild animals and
plants in the context of both biodiversity
conservation and sustainable development.
For further information contact:
TRAFFIC
Southeast Asia Regional Oce
Unit 3-2, 1st Floor
Jalan SS23/11, Taman SEA
47400 Petaling Jaya
Selangor, Malaysia
Telephone: (603) 7880 3940
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Website: www.trac.org
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JULY 2016
is a strategic alliance of
... Otters are prized for their luxurious fur, made into clothing for consumers in China, particularly in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The clandestine nature of the illegal trade means that the true scale is far greater than seizure numbers reveal (Gomez et al., 2016). Rising incomes in Asia have led to a burgeoning demand for wildlife products and target species in the region face intense pressures from poaching . ...
... The Indian capital of Delhi, located in the north of the country, serves as a hub for the collection of wildlife products from across India to be shipped into Nepal to points north. Some skins seized in Delhi bore signatures in Tibetan script, suggesting that the pelts were to be sent to China via Nepal (Gomez et al., 2016). More otter skins are seized in India than any other South Asian country, a total of 2,949 between 1980 and 2015 (Gomez et al., 2016). ...
... Some skins seized in Delhi bore signatures in Tibetan script, suggesting that the pelts were to be sent to China via Nepal (Gomez et al., 2016). More otter skins are seized in India than any other South Asian country, a total of 2,949 between 1980 and 2015 (Gomez et al., 2016). A decline in seizures in Delhi after 2011 parallels a similar trend in Nepal. ...
... To review the characteristic of the exotic pet trade on social media platforms, we use otters as a case study. In recent years, otters have been traded online in Southeast Asia (Aadrean 2013;Gomez and Bouhuys 2018;Gomez et al 2016;Krishnasamy and Stoner 2016). Otter species are threatened worldwide from habitat loss, as well as legal and illegal trade including the fur trade, the exotic pet trade, for traditional medicine, and trophies purposes (Duckworth 2013;Melisch 1998;Shepherd and Nijman 2014). ...
... All these five species are considered globally threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria, and their international trade is regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (IUCN Otter Specialist Group 2016). In the past 35 years, seizure records reveal that otters are traded in around 15 Asian countries, the majority being in China, India, and Nepal (Gomez et al 2016). However, in recent years, there have been a growing number of seizures of "live otters" in Southeast Asia which suggested an emerging trend of otters being caught for the commercial pet trade in this region (Gomez and Bouhuys 2017). ...
... The range of the Asian small-clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter is distributed across Thailand, whereas the other two species are rare and are limited to isolated populations in the north of Thailand (Conroy et al 1998;Kanchanasaka 2001). In Thailand, possession of otters is prohibited; all native otters are domestically protected under the National Wildlife Protection Act of 2535 B.E. (Gomez et al 2016). However, despite the legislation in place, domestic and international trade exists. ...
Article
Full-text available
Social media has become an increasingly popular platform to trade legal and illegal wildlife. Here, we evaluate the online trade of otters, a group of globally threatened taxa in Thailand, a country of high global social media use. During the 14-month period, we monitored five Facebook groups to establish a primary understanding of the scope and scale of the trade. We recorded 160 sales posts (337 individual otters) of two species, the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus) (81%) and the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) (19%). Newborn otter pups accounted for 53% of the offers, whereas young otters accounted for 35%. Prices averaged US$78, where the smooth-coated otter was offered at a significantly higher price than the Asian small-clawed otter. Juvenile otters were also significantly more expensive than newborns. Trade appears to be domestic; however, the potential for international trade cannot be overlooked. Although otters are protected domestically, we find that the trade is easily accessible and prevalent. The results reflect current inadequacies in enforcement and legislation in keeping pace with the rapidly shifting nature of the Internet in Thailand and throughout the global Internet community. A consistent collaborative effort from consumers, enforcement agencies, and operators is required to address this illicit trade. © 2018 National Science Museum of Korea (NSMK) and Korea National Arboretum (KNA)
... However, it is currently difficult to ascertain the scale of the contribution of the cafes, as there is very little baseline information to draw upon. Typically, research into the wildlife trade and pet trade can be difficult, particularly in Asia, given the scarcity of trade information, resulting from the secretive nature of the wildlife trade and incompleteness of seizure data (Gomez et al., 2016). There is also the added issue of inconsistent legal protection used to regulate trade across relevant countries and challenges associated with weak law enforcement (Gomez et al., 2016). ...
... Typically, research into the wildlife trade and pet trade can be difficult, particularly in Asia, given the scarcity of trade information, resulting from the secretive nature of the wildlife trade and incompleteness of seizure data (Gomez et al., 2016). There is also the added issue of inconsistent legal protection used to regulate trade across relevant countries and challenges associated with weak law enforcement (Gomez et al., 2016). In the case of Japan, the domestic trade of CITES Appendix I species is controlled under the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; however, the same control does not apply to Appendix II species, such as the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus), which could influence the effectiveness of enforcement and protection. ...
... A report providing an overview of the Asian illegal otter trade shows the trade of live otters to be relatively recent, with seizure data recorded from the 2000s onwards, compared to seizures of dead individuals (skins, carcasses and body parts), which extended back to the 1980s (Gomez et al., 2016). And while the number of live otter seizures was relatively small (Gomez et al., 2016) and predominantly supplied domestic trade (Gomez & Bouhuys, 2017), an increase in live otter trade and popularity of otters in the pet trade has been observed. ...
Article
Full-text available
Animal-themed cafes are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, both with locals and international tourists. Recently otters have been added to the suite of exotic species available in these cafes. Otter populations are declining worldwide due to habitat loss, water pollution, reduction in prey biomass, and poaching. The advent of otter cafes has the potential to further impact otter populations as they can stimulate the otter pet trade and illegal wildlife trade. However, there is very little baseline information available from which to consider their contribution. Therefore, a rapid-review of animal-themed cafes through internet search and visits to three cafes was undertaken to acquire preliminary information regarding the status of otter cafes in Japan. Eight cafes which kept 22 otters between them, were identified. As interactions with otters in cafes can depict them as “pet appropriate”, the cafes have the potential to motivate the otter pet trade. In addition, a recent spike in seized, live otters en route to Japan, corresponds with the timing of the opening of the otter cafes. Therefore, further investigation is required to determine the effect of otter cafes on otter populations, particularly their influence on the pet trade and illegal wildlife trade. OTTER, The Journal of the International Otter Survival Fund (Vol 4) 23-28.
... In many Asian countries, the species are still hunted for their pelts, fur, food, and sport, and persecuted as a pest. Gomez et al. (2016) document an illegal otter trade in at least 15 Asian countries, notably in China, India and Nepal. In addition, combination of habitat destruction and environmental pollution (Gomez et al., 2016) also put much pressure on Asian otters. ...
... Gomez et al. (2016) document an illegal otter trade in at least 15 Asian countries, notably in China, India and Nepal. In addition, combination of habitat destruction and environmental pollution (Gomez et al., 2016) also put much pressure on Asian otters. Though facing the similar threats like in Asia, in many European countries, otters are recovering from the sharp decline occurred in the last decades of the 20th century likely following legal protection and banning of PCBs . ...
Article
Full-text available
Asia is home to five of the 13 species of otters found around the world. While studies on the otter have been increased considerably over the years, the focus and pattern of research in Asian Otter has not been analyzed properly. Here, we review the English literature published online on Asian otter species from 1990 to 2019 to portray trends and current state of research in otters to identify research gaps and suggest future research directions. A total of 244 original research papers were retrieved from online sources and categorized by research themes. Publications were analyzed using descriptive statistics, line graphs, Kendell's tau b coefficient, Kruskal-Wallis test, Wilcoxon rank sum test and a generalized linear model to detect trends in thematic and geographic focus. Our review documents a notable increase in the number of publications in Asian otter species after 2005. A persistent geographical bias was observed in the published studies where 32% of the total papers come from South Asia and 25% from South East Asia with lesser papers from Western Asia and no papers from Central Asia. Baseline surveys are the most common studies, followed by studies on ecology, genetics, conservation, trade and disease. Overall, our review shows that the status, distribution and trend of Asian otter population is still limited and more research is needed for less studied otter species, such as the hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) and Pacific populations of the sea otter (Enhydra lutris). We also found that information on the potential impacts of climate change on otter species, and taxonomy as well as phylogenetic relationships among Asian otters is limited. We recommend that more studies be carried out in regions of Western Asia and Central Asia firstly on status and distribution and then on their ecology to improve our understanding of otter species in the face of increasing impacts on their habitats.
... Data can also be acquired through national governments, regional enforcement offices, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs; e.g. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and TRAFFIC; Gomez et al. 2016) or specific database systems for high-profile species (Rosen & Smith 2010;Underwood et al. 2013;Challender et al. 2015). Using the CITES seizure data by itself can be relatively limiting, for reasons such as the periodic time lag between trade occurring and trade reporting (UNODC 2016), dependency on reporting rates for each country (Pistoni & Toledo, 2010;Milliken et al. 2012) and inaccuracy or absence of information on domestic trade (Blundel & Mascia 2005;Giles et al. 2006;Phelps et al. 2010), as well as the overlooking of trade in non-CITES species (Bruckner 2001;Schlaepfer et al. 2005;Rhyne et al. 2012). ...
... Seizure reports are a viable source of data used to illustrate the presence and patterns of the Siamese rosewood trade in Thailand, as reported in previous studies of the illegal wildlife trade (Underwood et al. 2013;Nijman 2015;D'Cruze & Macdonald 2016;Gomez et al. 2016;UNODC 2016;Cheng et al. 2017). Although news articles are dependent on reporting rates in the same way as official seizure data are (Rosen & Smith 2010), the different numbers of news outlets increases the chances of reporting. ...