Otters ate your koi? Here’s what you can do to avoid animal-human conflict, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Otters ate your koi? Here’s what you can do to avoid animal-human conflict

Otters have been making a splash on social media platforms in recent months, including reports of at least one person getting bitten. Residents have also complained about otters dipping their paws into and munching on pricey koi collections.

The Straits Times spoke to experts and wildlife enthusiasts to find out the causes behind these incidents, and ways in which people can better coexist with wild animals like otters in our small, urban island.

Has the otter population increased?

The commonly seen smooth-coated otter is one of two species found in Singapore. It is larger than the small-clawed otter, which can be found in mangroves in the western part of the island and Pulau Ubin.

Recent reports indicate that there are about 170 smooth-coated otters in Singapore, up from about 80 in 2017.

The medium-sized mammals, which are listed as critically endangered in Singapore, can be seen in many parts of the island, including places like Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

They are a popular not just with amateur photographers but also ordinary residents, who take videos and photos of the animals and put them up on social media platforms.

However, experts advise against getting too close to otters because it can startle the wild animals, and they might attack.

On April 4, 2022, a man was bitten by an otter in Kallang Riverside Park. The 52-year-old jogger, who was excited to see a pack of 30 otters, trailed them to take a photo when one of the otters lunged at him and bit him on the calf.

Experts said expanding urbanisation has led to further clashes between humans and wildlife. Animals like wild boars and otters wander into residential areas in search of food. This has sometimes led to unhappiness and complaints, which are aired on social media platforms.

The National Parks Board (NParks), in response to queries, said each month since 2022, it gets about eight cases of feedback involving otters foraging for food in residential estates.

What should people do when they encounter otters?

A spokesman for Otter Photography Facebook Group myottermelon told The Straits Times that otters are generally not aggressive animals and do not attack humans without reason.

She said: “Often, people are bitten because they go too close to them, either trying to take photos with their phones or to touch them like cats and dogs without thinking because they are still wild animals.”

The Myottermelon spokesman said “some dog owners have been seen challenging the otter family as they think their dogs can fight them. These actions may trigger a reaction from the otters to defend themselves and biting incidents may happen”.

Otters feed on fish, so fence up your koi

On July 25, Shin Min Daily News reported that about five otters had eaten six koi fish kept outside a Bukit Purmei Housing Board flat. The homeowner said he kept the pricey fish in a tank outside his ground floor unit.

In another incident, otters were reported to have feasted on 30 koi fish at man’s house in Chuan Drive on March 2 this year.

The Otter Working Group - which includes NParks, national water agency PUB, Mandai Wildlife Group, Acres and other organisations - has advised homeowners keeping ornamental fish to take steps to stop otters from entering their homes, for instance, by sealing gaps in fences and gates with mesh, and putting up otter-proof barriers for ponds.

Mr How Choon Beng, director of wildlife management and outreach at NParks, said: “NParks takes action to pre-empt or mitigate human-otter conflict where possible. This is particularly so for areas where the public may come into closer contact with otters. These actions include raising awareness through outreach and signage.”

NParks and the Otter Working Group also works with homeowners and estate managers to put in place wire mesh and other types of barriers to block access to private spaces and prevent otters from entering.

Get more information

Dr Shawn Lum, ecologist and immediate past president of The Nature Society Singapore said “there should be programmes to reduce or coax people out of fearing animals, or to at least make some people more accepting of our wild neighbours”.

He added that such programmes could be in the form of organised walks, gardening activities for more people, talks and discussions with residents about local wildlife.

While otter-related incidents may seem frightening, an NParks spokesman said otters are generally shy animals and will not attack unless provoked or when they feel threatened.

“When encountering otters, it is best to observe them from a safe distance, and avoid getting close to or cornering them especially when there are pups as the adults can be protective over their young when approached by humans,” the spokesman added.

He said resident engagement activities are carried out early at areas where otters are sighted, to show people how to respond appropriately to otter encounters. The board has also released an advisory on otters.