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International Workshops

Illegal Trade

Helping Otters and Wetlands in Central and South America


It is widely recognised that wetlands are amongst the most biodiverse and economically valuable habitats and yet they continue to decline – indeed it is estimated that since pre-industrial times this decline has been as much as 87% worldwide. Human use of wetlands can have a serious impact on biodiversity, and it is often the poorest people who rely on this source for an income.

Otters are top predators using both terrestrial and aquatic environments and their loss has a profound impact on local food webs, biodiversity and habitat relationships. They need good water quality which is essential for all species, including our own, and so are excellent environmental indicators.

There are four species of otter in South America, all on the Red List:

Marine Otter or Seacat (Lontra felina) - Endangered
Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) – Endangered
Southern River Otter (Lontra provocax) - Endangered
Neotropical or Long-tailed Otter (Lontra longicaudis) – Near Threatened

They are all declining in number as a result of habitat loss, disturbance, conflict with fishermen and pollution.


In November 2019, IOSF held a training workshop at the remote Amerindian village of Yupukari in central Guyana in partnership with the NGO, Save the Giants (STG). STG is a nonprofit, community driven conservation organisation, dedicated to preserving Guyana's wildlife via a multi-disciplinary approach. The workshop focussed on the two species of otter in Guyana: – the Neotropical Otter (right) and the Giant Otter (below).

In Guyana Giant Otters in particular are recognised as an important umbrella species and environmental ambassadors. However, otter numbers are decreasing across their range due to habitat loss, the illegal wildlife trade, lack of law enforcement and climate change. Due to historically low levels of development, Guyana has served as the last Giant Otter stronghold but development in mining, forestry and oil are suddenly increasing rapidly.

Research alone is not conservation, but for any conservation programme to be successful it must be founded on recent sound scientific data obtained by trained researchers. The workshop was designed to act as a launchpad for community involvement in environmental projects, especially involving women and young people. There were two aims: to train local villagers in survey techniques so they can carry out research and monitor otter populations and obtain important data; and also to develop education/public awareness programmes to be run by the community, including a Wildlife Club for the children. In return for continued work the villagers would receive monthly stipends to help the economy of this remote community.

There are three components of the future work:

Otter Monitoring

Following the workshop training there is now a team of seven people (including four women) involved in field surveys. During the surveys the team will also watch for signs of illegal activity including illegal extraction, fishing and poaching. Data gained can give information on population dynamics in correlation with ecosystem changes, such as changing water levels and anthropogenic disturbances, and can aid Guyana’s Protected Areas Commission land initiative to develop site-specific land management plans that include otter habitat.

Funds are needed this otter monitoring.


Education/Public Awareness

In Guyana, education resources are applied disproportionately to coastal urban communities and inland rural village schools function with little in terms of teaching aids or even basic supplies (paper, pens, etc). Teachers are not trained in nature-based learning and it is not considered a priority.

Local Yupukari boy investigating otter signs ©Save the Giants

So this project will provide an opportunity to learn in both a formal and informal way through outdoor environmental education focussed on otters. It will show man’s role in the ecosystem, how the natural world supports community wellbeing, and the importance of sustainable development.

Following the workshop there are now two women working on the education/public awareness programme including a Wildlife Festival to be held on IOSF’s World Otter Day.

Funds are needed for this education work.


Science Centre

IOSF is working with STG and the community to create a science centre to act as a multi-functional facility. It will provide space for wildlife club meetings, workshops, etc with education equipment and art supplies for regular use by teachers and students. This will give the community a unique opportunity to participate and lead innovative, interdisciplinary projects in important areas of scientific research and foster youth-led campaigns to promote a deeper love for the natural environment.

Villagers at the proposed site for the science centre ©Save the Giants

Using Caiman House eco-lodge the village can develop sustainable eco-tourism and host academic meetings of NGOs, zoologists, students, etc. This can lead to international partnerships across a broad range of scientific disciplines leading to advancing discovery, innovation, and education, empowering future generations in the fields of science and technology.

Funds are needed for the Science Centre.



© José Bartheld

Marine otters, also called Seacats (left) are found in the cold temperate regions along the Pacific coast from Peru to Tierra del Fuego and the largest population is along the coast of Chile, where they are known as Chungungo.

These otters live almost exclusively in the marine environment, preferably along rocky coasts where they use crevices and caves as holts.

Chinchimén is an organisation in the Valparaiso region of Chile, which works to conserve the native coastal flora and fauna, including marine otters. They carry out research and education/public awareness and work with local communities and the government to ensure that both the people and environment are taken into consideration when looking at new legislation. Chinchimén brings together interdisciplinary professionals with a love of nature and people to address environmental conflicts.

They now plan to hold a series of workshops for school children aged 8-12 to raise awareness of the importance of the preservation of the marine ecosystem, particularly concerning plastic pollution. In formal education, environmental issues do not include marine issues, contributing to ignorance of coastal habitats, the most extensive in the world. This lack of knowledge generates uninformed communities, unable to see how the oceans are directly linked in their daily lives, whether by the water cycle or global phenomena such as climate change.

© Chinchimen

The programme will have the following objectives:

  • Identify an environmental problem of the local environment especially related to plastic pollution.
  • Perform a challenging activity, where school children incorporate learned concepts in the workshops and carry out a project that delivers a sustainable solution to one of the identified local problems related to plastic, and then present them to the school community.
  • Empower young people with ocean themes, to form future informed citizens, with a capacity for resolution and interested in promoting citizen participation around the sea, through the creation of networks.
  • Inspire teachers to take an active role in sustainability issues.

In addition to the otters, the programme involves other marine species, including mammals, fish, invertebrates, algae, etc and is therefore of benefit to the entire ecosystem.

Workshops will be held three times a week over two months and will end with an event to demonstrate the results to the community, thus igniting a passion throughout.

Funds are needed for these educational workshops.



The aim of the project is to learn more about the Neotropical Otter in the Santa Maria river basin, Panama.

The Santa Maria river is in the central area of the country and is an important basin with many unique species. The local national park protects the habitat and forest of the upper part of the basin. Neotropical Otters are known to be present but they were heavily hunted for fur between 1950-1970, which resulted in local extinction.

Current threats include urban and agricultural expansion, but there is a vast lack of information about their ecology and there is no long-term monitoring.

Panama Wildlife Conservation is an organisation dedicated to the conservation of biodiversity, animal species and their habitats, through collaboration with local residents and organisations in Panama. Their mission is to promote the conservation of wildlife, its natural habitat throughout the geographical range of each species, as well as its peaceful coexistence with man, through research and conservation strategies.

Panama Wildlife Conservation have been developing different projects for the conservation of the rich biodiversity of the area, as well as helping unprivileged families and promoting environmental education. Local residents depend on the natural resources of the river for their livelihoods, and so the otter can act as an umbrella species to promote habitat restoration and protection for future generations.

The otter project will involve:

  • Developing field surveys to learn more about distribution, behaviour and habitat use and identify sites for monitoring.
  • Assessing the level of knowledge of local people about otters.
  • Holding three workshops to raise awareness of the importance of habitat conservation, involving local helpers, government officials, primary and secondary schools and the local Territorial Council of Santa Fe.

© Panama Wildlife Conservation

Two local people will be hired as field guides so that they are involved in the project and also to create local capacity. They will also help to raise more awareness in the community and encourage others to care for their environment.

Funds are needed for this project in Panama.