Wild antics otter-ley unexpected

  • Singapore
  • Sunday, 31 May 2020

Snapshot hotspot: People taking pictures of smooth-coated otters along a canal in Singapore. — AFP

Singapore: Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the coronavirus lockdown but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull.

With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping centre, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond.

While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife.

There is an estimated 90 otters in Singapore, making up 10 families, and appearances at popular tourist sites around the city-state’s downtown waterfront have transformed them into local celebrities.

They featured in a documentary narrated by David Attenborough, are tracked avidly by the local media – and have been spotted more frequently since people were asked to stay home and workplaces closed in April to fight the virus.

“When there’s restriction of movement, there’s less vehicles and there’s less people, so the urban space opens up, ” said N. Sivasothi, a biologist at the National University of Singapore known as “Otterman” due to his work on the animals.

But the otter’s newfound freedoms seem to have emboldened them, and they are now facing a backlash.

The most high-profile incident was a raid on a pond at a spa shuttered due to the pandemic.

The creatures gobbled several fish including an arowana, a prized species that can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Actress-turned-entrepreneur Jazreel Low, who owns the spa, posted pictures on Facebook of fish parts scattered around the pond and lamented a “massacre”.

“They probably realised that there was nobody there and became more daring, ” Low told entertainment news website 8 DAYS.

The case sparked a debate about whether more should be done to stop otters rampaging through the city, with a widely discussed letter in a local newspaper calling for air horns and rubber bullets to be used as deterrents. — AFP

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