It was late afternoon and the winter sun bathed the forest in its golden light. The stillness of the surroundings was perturbed when, almost magically, an otter appeared on the steep and muddy bank of the eastern side of the canal. It stopped momentarily at water’s edge, turned up its nostrils to sniff the air, and entered the canal. At first it swam with only the head showing, the rest of its body underwater. Then, slowly, the hump of its sleek back floated up on water’s surface. As it swam forward in a straight line, the water caressed its coarse brown fur. It swam along the edge, making no attempt to cross the canal. After about a hundred feet it started making its way out of the water, stopping midway to cautiously look around. Sensing no danger it relaxed and leaned its back on the muddy slope at water’s edge. The sun’s rays, striking at an angle, warmed its cheeks and delineated its long whiskers. Pulling in a front paw with oversized toes it scratched its face and straightened out wayward whiskers. After stretching, it finally stood up and started walking along the bank with water dripping from its fur. Its short feet sunk into the soft mud with each step. No matter, it moved effortlessly. Along the way, it poked its nose into every nook and cranny in the mud, looking for a mudskipper, crab, shrimp or other morsel that the receding tide might have stranded on the mud. At one point it came to an abrupt stop, stood on its hind legs and looked and listened carefully, more to survey its domain than to check for danger, before resuming its walk. This was not aimless wandering, however. Our otter had a destination, because soon it broke into a run, its lower back arching up and down like a camel’s as its small fur-covered legs propelled its body forward.
The destination became clear as it reached a large Sundari tree. A number of roots sprawled over the forest floor and it climbed on one perhaps six inches from the ground. Taking its position behind a screen of low-hanging leaves, it quietly waited. Soon a second otter sauntered in from the forest. They hugged, played and scratched each other’s back before jumping off and disappearing into the forest.
Watching from the boat through the camera’s viewfinder, I felt blessed that nature had revealed these few moments to me.
With a head-to-tail length of 85 centimetres - of which 30 centimetres are taken by the tail - oriental small-clawed otters are the smallest of the three species of otter found in Bangladesh. They eat shrimp, crabs and molluscs from the water. Excellent swimmers, they can stay underwater for up to eight minutes. They are common denizens of Sundarban and can sometimes be found in extended small family groups headed by an alpha male and an alpha female. Just like otters elsewhere, they are social animals that engage in activities showing affection for each other. You are likely to encounter them when boating in a smaller canal inside the forest.
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