More wild otters sighted in Singapore

Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 14;

SINGAPORE: They are native to Singapore, yet not a common sight for most people here.

The sightings of wild otters have been increasing over the years, according to the National Parks Board (NParks).

Many of the sightings have been reported by visitors to the Lorong Halus Wetlands and the Serangoon Reservoir at Punggol.

Experts say the otter population in Singapore has grown from just a pair in the 1990s to possibly close to 100 today.

At first glance, all may seem quiet at the Serangoon Reservoir. But on closer look, some furry creatures can be seen in the waters.

They are smooth-coated otters, who have decided to call the place home.

The species is also listed as vulnerable by the International Union of Conservation for Nature.

Some say the otters have been around in Punggol for the past seven years, but more of such mammals are being noticed as more people venture outdoors.

Serin Subaraj, young naturalist of Strix Wildlife Consultancy, said: "Being a reservoir that's formally a river, it's connected to the sea. So the otters being a riverine estuary species, they prefer rivers. They actually come in to feed on the fish. Because Punggol has nice sloping banks with grass, it looks like a river and they really like that atmosphere."

The NParks and Strix Wildlife Consultancy is currently conducting a study to analyse the population and distribution of otters in Singapore.

The NParks said the otters have been seen in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve since the 1990s, and more recently at Gardens by the Bay.

Jason Loke, a cyclist, said: "I saw them in Lower Seletar Reservoir. I thought it was a monster or something. About five or six of them came out to greet people. It's great to have some wildlife. You can see hornbills at Pulau Ubin, you can see some of these birds actually, it's very good already. It's good to keep the green passageways everywhere."

Lai Chee Kian, an architectural and urban historian, said: "These are all encouraging signs, we have larger numbers of different types of wildlife coming back to Singapore. The central catchment area remains a very important area to look for new species and over the years it has continued to be so. This is why any development in the central catchment area has to be thought through very thoroughly."

And while the otters are known to be playful creatures, the NParks has advised the public not to disturb them, but to appreciate the wildlife from a distance.

- CNA/de