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The Kabini Underwater Construction Company!

Smooth-coated otter, Kabini

The Kabini Dam is often in the news, holding, as it does, the status of a gatekeeper of the economic fortunes of competing agrarian states. But, far below the swirling eddies of riverine politics, there is another, more pristine ecosystem at work. This is the world of miniature dams and tunnels, a world that exists in a parallel subterranean universe…a world built by the Smooth-Coated Otters of Kabini. The largest Otter species in Southeast Asia, these velvet warriors spend most of their time in and around fresh water, even though they tend to nest aground. Much like the Beaver, they are past masters at constructing permanent dams and tunnels underwater that lead to their nests. Extremely social creatures, they prefer to hunt with friends, and it isn’t uncommon to see an undulating ‘V’ of Otters skimming across the surface, driving the fish towards a pre-determined point, before diving to seize the prey. In fact, these Otters have been trained and used by fishermen, most notably in Bangladesh, to drive schools of fish into their nets. Once on land, they tend to communicate through smells, and have a fully operational scent manufacturing unit (we’re tempted to call it an ‘ol’factory) situated at the base of their tails. They indulge in a process known as ‘sprainting’ (which sounds suspiciously like an artist working with a twisted ankle) to mark territory and demarcate functional areas for feeding, resting, nesting etc. While they are typical party animals who love to frolic and mingle when they’re single, they become loyal mates once they find a life partner. Much like our Bollywood couples who run around trees and mazes, the Otter lovebirds prefer to play and mate in the water. Which, when you think of it, is a ‘dam’ good reason to build all those underwater hideaways they’re famous for!

Photograph: Jose Ramapuram Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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