Notes from the Field: Eurasian Otter Conservation Continues in Armenia

The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) latest wildlife conservation initiative, preserving endangered Eurasian otters, continued with an expedition to Armenia in late 2018. Their status in this country has declined dramatically in recent years while numbers have also fallen in neighboring Azerbaijan and Iran.

Our first goal of the project is to understand where the otter population currently stands throughout the regions of Armenia that contain separate river systems, which provide suitable habitats for otters. These 13 systems – called watersheds – don’t always show signs of otters inhabiting them, so the DZS is working to identify and prioritize which of those locations are best suited for the preservation of this species.

On our first expedition in June, we discovered that the otter populations the southcentral region of Armenia were significantly greater than expected. If these conclusions are accurate, it would be rare but exciting news in conservation work.

We returned in December and traveled to watershed areas in north and central Armenia to confirm the presence and relative abundance of otters in these regions During these investigations, we confirmed reports of otter conflict with humans in the area. Otters were found to be eating the trout in fish farms that would eventually be reintroduced to Lake Sevan as part of a native species restocking project.

Surveys conducted on foot of the areas near Arpi Lake National Park and Dilijan National Park showed signs of the presence of otters, including tracks, feces and other indicators such as partially eaten fish. These surveys, along with interviews with local residents, suggest that hunting by humans has also led to the decline of otters in the area.

Additionally, photographs downloaded from our trail camera along the Arpa River revealed not only otters, but illegal fishermen. Proof of this activity will help us greatly in making a case to establish a protected area. In addition to documenting illegal fishing in these areas, which depletes otter food sources, we’ve also documented illegal otter trapping efforts. We hope that if this illegal activity can be stopped, migration of otters from neighboring populations will help restore their numers in the area.

Plans for 2019 include reviewing additional trail camera images from Arpi Lake National Park, and surveying the remaining watersheds in Armenia. After completing this work, we will be able to provide a robust update on the status of otters in this country. With that information, we can continue to explore options to set up sustainable protected areas, as well as develop local education programs to enhance otter conservation in these important areas.

– Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the field conservation officer for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Resolve to Go Green

With the dawn of a new year comes a host of resolutions being set – exercise more, eat healthier, trim the budget, purge the closets. As you set your goals for 2019, consider the planet and what you can do to protect wildlife and wild places. We invite you to join us on our award-winning Green Journey to create a more sustainable future and kick some of these habits to the curb this year.

  • Plastic bags are sooo last year: More than 100 billion plastic bags are used by consumers in the U.S. every year and they can take up to 1,000 years to break down in landfills. That’s a lot of unnecessary plastic waste. Many cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, have banned plastic bags altogether or require a fee to use them. For those of us living elsewhere, let’s make a pact to just say no. Many grocery and retail stores offer inexpensive reusable totes – they’re sturdier and stronger than plastic bags, so they won’t break from the bottom when carrying your haul. We no longer provide plastic bags at Detroit Zoo gift shops, but we offer wildlife-themed bags for a nominal fee. Stop by Zoofari Market on your next visit and pick one up! 

  • Can the single-use coffee cup: You don’t have to cross the coffee stop off your morning routine – just change the container. Single-use plastic and cardboard coffee cups often end up tossed in the trash, and they have a plastic waterproof lining on the inside that makes them difficult to recycle. The solution is easy – and will save you money. A one-time purchase of a reusable mug or thermos helps the environment every time you stop for coffee and leave that cardboard cup on the counter. Many coffee shops, such as Starbucks, offer a discount for bringing your own reusable cup. What’s better than being green while saving green?
  • Save water one drop at a time: From brushing our teeth to doing the dishes, bathing our bodies and washing our clothes, we’re consuming water at a rapid rate. But there are small steps we can take every day to reduce our water usage, such as turning off the tap while brushing our teeth or reducing shower time by a couple minutes. A standard showerhead uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, so any time you shave off your shower is less water down the drain. Shorter showers will save money on your water bill, too.

  • Ditch those receipts: More often than not, stores will give you the option to choose if you’d like your receipt printed or emailed to you. Printed receipts often end up tossed in the trash, crumpled at the bottom of a purse or wrinkled in our wallets. Let’s save paper – and the environment – by passing on the printed receipts this year.

New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be hard-to-attain goals – small steps taken every day can have a huge impact on the world around us. Learn more about what you can do – and the strides we’re taking, too.