ISLAND OTTERS. The smooth-coated otters surprised residents in the municipality of Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi when they surfaced from their den together with three pups. The pair of otters was first seen on the island on May 14. (Photo courtesy of the Turtle Islands Municipal Police Station)
ZAMBOANGA CITY – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the pair of smooth-coated otters (Lutrogaleperspicillata) reported in May in Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi, surprised the residents last week when they emerged from their den accompanied by three pups.
DENR-Region 9 executive director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez said it was the first time that the otters, locally known as “HanjingLaut”, were seen outside their normal area of distribution.
“Studies indicate that smooth-coated otters are originally from Malaysia and Indonesia and it is just surprising to know that they have now reached Taganak Island,” Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday.
The municipality of Turtle Islands, called Taganak by locals, is located within the Sulu Sea at the south-western tip of the country and at the edge of the international treaty limits separating the Philippines and Malaysia.
Rodriguez said Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary (TIWS) Protected Area Superintendent Minda Bairula reported to her that the residents spotted the otters with their pups frolicking in the sand.
Bairula said it was on July 31 that a resident living near the shoreline reported to their office that she heard sounds of newly-born animals coming from the den of the otters.
It was only on August 17 that a Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) staff spotted the baby otters coming out from the den.
Rodriguez said with the help of the Turtle Island policemen, DENR personnel managed to video-document the parent otters and the pups playing along the shoreline.
“I have also instructed Bairula, who is on site, to record the biology, habits, and behavior of the otters and continue coordinating with our office as we are also consulting with experts from the Biodiversity Management Bureau and the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Otter Specialist Group,” Rodriquez said.
She also said her office is constrained from sending technical experts to Turtle Islands to conduct further studies on the otters because of the limited trips, transportation, and quarantine protocols due to the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
The residents in Turtle Islands first reported the sighting of two smooth-coated otters playing in their shoreline on May 14, which stirred curiosity as it was the first time that they have seen the animals on their island.
Turtle Islands or Taganak is part of the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary, which is Southeast Asia’s largest marine turtle sanctuary and a declared protected area under Republic Act 11038, otherwise known as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Law. (PNA)