'Forgotten' baby otters rescued, reunited with family by volunteers

Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 28 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: A pair of 11-week-old otter pups that were "forgotten" and left without food were reunited with their family on Thursday (Dec 28), with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers.

Mr Jeffery Teo, from the community group OtterWatch, said the family of smooth-coated otters was first spotted without two of their pups at about 6am on Wednesday.

The family, which is known to have six pups, took four of them to Gardens by the Bay but two of them were lost along the way.

On Wednesday evening, the two missing pups were sighted near Nicoll Highway, but their family was across the water at Gardens by the Bay.

The pups are too young to swim across the deep water and would have had "zero" chance of survival if left alone, Mr Teo said.

He explained that the pups are beginning to eat fish, but cannot catch fish on their own and they were still suckling.

The volunteers considered the option of keeping the baby otters alive in captivity but were "quite confident" that they could reunite the family.

"From our observations, this is not intentional abandonment by the families," Mr Teo said.


The operation involved three teams - one to follow the otter family, another to stay with the pups, and the last to make sure there were no adult otters in the area where the two pups were, Mr Teo said.

The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) led a rescue operation at about 10.30am on Thursday.

ACRES deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan with one of the rescued otter pups. (Photo: OtterWatch)
Mr Kalai Vanan, deputy chief executive of ACRES, said OtterWatch contacted the animal welfare group after they determined that the two otter pups had been left behind at the Kallang riverside area.

ACRES and OtterWatch initially wanted to let the family find the pups but as the amount of time that the baby otters had been alone approached the 30-hour mark, they feared the otters might become weak and potentially drown in the water. Hence, they decided to rescue them, Mr Kalai said.

The two otters were initially hiding in their holt, a small den Mr Teo estimated was about 30cm wide, and rescuers had to wait patiently for them to emerge onto a grass patch so they could be trapped.

Rescuers tried to attract the otters' attention and lure them into a trap, but the pups did not fall for it as they "may have been scared of the foreign object", Mr Kalai said.

So they resorted to using pole nets to catch the animals on foot.

The first pup was caught at around 11.30am. As it was showing signs of stress, it was brought back to be returned to his family first, OtterWatch said in a Facebook post.

However, its sibling slipped through the net and rescuers had to wait for the pup to settle down before trying again, eventually catching it at 1.15pm, Mr Teo said.

On the difficulties of the rescue operation, Mr Teo said: "The pups were very alert ... There were a lot of attempts to make sure the pups don't run back so easily into their holt."

OtterWatch estimated that as of noon at Thursday, the pups had gone without food for about 42 hours, since their last meal on Tuesday evening. Thankfully, both were reunited with their family.

"We are really happy with the outcome because time was about to run out for these two pups," the community group said in a Facebook update after the rescue.

The entire rescue operation took about three and a half hours, Mr Kalai said.

"ACRES would like to extend their appreciation to Otterwatch for their tireless efforts to observing the movement of the otters to make the operation a successful one," the wildlife rescuer added.

One of OtterWatch's long-time members, Mr Teo said he felt that otters in Singapore should be cherished.

"With clean water come otters. These natural creatures are direct endorsements of Singapore's decades of efforts in our green and blue projects; they are a beautiful outcome of the government and people's years of effort."

The group also saved two otter pups after they were separated from their families last year, and helped to remove an o-ring which was hurting a young otter this year.