China Eco Tales: Kinmen Island of Taiwan – Wonderland for Eurasian Otters

Posted Date: Monday 3 September 2018    

Author: Li Fei, Senior Conservation Officer, Kadoorie Conservation China
The tiny Kinmen Island of Taiwan is a must-go for people concerned about China’s otters. Kinmen Island sits directly opposite Fujian’s Xiamen of China, and supports the most stable and highest population density of Eurasia Otter along the East Asian coastline. This July, I was invited by Taipei Zoo to attend the 2018 International Conference on Eurasian Otter Conservation and Re-introduction. 
The first half of the conference was held in Taipei Zoo, and interesting presentations were given by some well-known otter experts around the world. The group also discussed the feasibility to reintroduce Eurasian Otters to Taiwan Island, and called for an extensive survey to confirm the local extirpation of otter on Taiwan Island prior to launching the reintroduction project to avoid genetic contamination by non-native individuals.

Li Li Fei of KCC gave a presentation on the dire situation of otters in China 

After the sound discussion on “Otter re-introduction to Taiwan”, we then moved to Kinmen Island for the second part of the conference and put our focus on the conservation of Kinmen otters. To come up with sound conservation strategy for the Kinmen otters, we visited several important otter habitats under the guidance of Prof. Ling-Ling Lee from National Taiwan University, who has a profound knowledge on the Kinmen otters. 
Prof. Ling-Ling Lee  briefing the delegates during the field visit
Otters have adapted well in man-made reservoirs on Kinmen
A A spraint of Kinmen Eurasian otter 
The delegates were taken for a night watch but the otters did not show up for us
But the local governments and national park were very keen to leave us a good impression and gave us all these lovely souvenirs!

Kinmen otter research and conservation 

Otters have long been recorded on Kinmen with records in the local gazettes, but systematic survey and research on the Kinmen otters only kicked off when the martial law was lifted in 1992 and Prof. Ling-Ling Lee led a team to conduct study, subsequently studies and conservation actions have been launched by Tunghai University, Taipei Zoo and other organisations. Based on recent research, it is estimated that over 100 otters are living on the island.  How about the situation in Fujian Province opposite Kinmen? According to a study published by Mr. Zhan Shaochen in 1985, the otter population in Fujian has crashed since the 1980s, and there is hardly any reports about otters along the coastal areas in Fujian in the last decade. 

After the turn of the new millennium, only six locations except Kinmen have otter records in China, and these are clusters around the estuaries of the Yangtze River and the Pearl River, including the Mai Po area of Hong Kong. Moreover, the population size and otter density on Kinmen is by far the greatest amongst these sites.

Locations with otter records along the Chinese coast since the Year 2000. Kinmen is indicated in red. (Please click and enlarge)

Although I just spent a few days attending the conference, I was so touched by the ways they do their conservation work. The Kinmen citizens not only are determined to conserve their otters, but  also their Horseshoe Crabs, Bee-eaters, heritage structures and traditional culture. I am particularly impressed by the dedication on conservation by the Taipei Zoo personnel;  more than 20 zoo staff attended the conference, and even their director and deputy director came and took turn to visit us on Kinmen to show their support to the conference. 

Conservation success could not be achieved by only one organization, and needs the involvement of the whole community. For the Kinmen otters, a conservation network has been established with collaboration between government departments, research institutes and NGOs, and they all strive to contribute to otter conservation. 


The Kinmen Eurasian Otter Conservation Network

To my surprise, conservationists from Taiwan are very eager to co-operate with mainland China in otter conservation. While otter researchers in China are starting to conduct preliminary surveys on otters of China, our Taiwan counterparts are already concerned about the future of the Kinmen otters, and have been looking at the genetic relationships between the otters of Kinmen and coastal China, and explore ways to connect the two populations. 

Today, both the otters and human residents of Kinmen are looking for ways to live in harmony on this beautiful island. I believe, some otters will recolonise mainland China when the Kinmen otter population becomes too dense, and I hope we will be well-prepared for the otters to return home…