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Kenyan Environmentalists Fight to Save the Otter

A group of science teachers in Kisumu, Kenya, are working to protect an endangered mammal on the shores of Lake Victoria. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Ajanga Khayesi tells us about their work to save the otter.

Otters [Fisi Maji in Swahili] were once a common sight along the shores of Lake Victoria in the morning and late afternoon. They have webbed feet, a fine streamlined body for rapid movement through the water, and a strong, muscular tail to help steer them. Otters often travel up to 50 km in a night in search of food -- mainly fish and crustaceans like crabs and mollusks. But their numbers are thinning because of the encroachment of farmers into the wetlands and groups clearing the area in search of reeds and grasses for building houses and cottages along the beach. Otters are also killed by pollution, including industrial waste dumped into Lake Victoria – and by natural predators -- like crocodiles, pythons, and eagles.

Titus Mulwa is part of the Hippo Focus Group working to save the otter. Its original goal was to save the hippopotamus – also an endangered species at Lake Victoria.

Mulwa says humans are another predator that endangers otters:

“Traditional Medicine men in search of the otter believe eating the animal meat boost sexual potency in men. Solar dried pieces of otter meat are crushed and powder mixed in the body oils for women to apply as an ointment charm to attract the lover’s heart.”

Mark Origa is chairman of the Kisumu Science Teachers Otter Conservation Group. It’s working with the Hippo Focus Group and Kenya’s Department of Fisheries as part of a program to help protect the mammals.

Together, they’re working to promote conservation awareness, in part by starting conservation clubs for area youth. They also want to help develop the region as a tourist site. And they’ll look for ways to restore food sources for the otter. Its primary foods – like fish and crabs – are now harvested for commercial use

Mark Origa offers a solution, “Re-planting papyrus and fresh water mangroves and reinforcing of the government policies on the conservation values of the lake and wetlands through education would change the area status quo. “

A shortage of funds has limited the activities of groups doing research as well as buying papyrus, hippo grass and freshwater mangrove seedlings to plant. But the otter conservationists persist – they plan to create an otter clinic in Kisumu town.