GOPRA VILLAGE, Bangladesh—
As I slide down a crumbling riverbank toward the long wooden boat, I smell a foul odor, like fermented mud. Most rural rivers in Bangladesh don’t stink despite their murky green and brown waters. But here, the distinctly pungent smell makes me recoil.
I gingerly shuffle along the narrow boat and bump against a bamboo crate perched on one end. The box erupts in a cacophonous choir of high-pitched squeals and squeaks. Then I realize the odd musk isn’t the river; it’s coming from the river otters captured inside the crate. They jostle as three fishermen push off from shore with long wooden oars. When I peer into the box, the squeaks grow louder. The otters poke webbed paws and whiskered snouts between the slats, and scrape their claws at the bamboo.
We are on the Chitra River in Gopra village in southwest of Bangladesh, heading out for an afternoon of fishing with help from these unusual partners. For at least two centuries, tame river otters have assisted fishermen here and in a few nearby districts.