Otters may be relocated by NParks to mitigate conflicts with residents

Workers putting up meshes (right) to otter-proof estates in order to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts in Singapore. (PHOTOS: Facebook/Tan Kiat How)
Workers putting up meshes (right) to otter-proof estates in order to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts in Singapore. (PHOTOS: Facebook/Tan Kiat How)

SINGAPORE — Otters in Singapore may be relocated or even sterilised in the long term, as its population has increased to about 170 islandwide.

Amid episodes of the otters devouring pet fishes in residences and attacking a runner at the Botanic Gardens, the National Parks Board (NParks) said on Monday (17 October) that it is managing the otter population by relocating them safely to prevent "human-wildlife conflict".

According to TNP Online, such operation was conducted for the first time last week, as NParks staff relocated six otters who had taken up residence in a Seletar housing estate.

These otters had wandered away from the waterways in Punggol to establish a holt - which is a hole in the ground where otters sleep and rest - in the housing estate. However, they were isolated from their natural food sources and had turned to foraging in Seletar instead.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How said in a Facebook post on Monday that NParks is working closely with the Otter Working Group (OWG) and the otter-watching community to better understand their population and movement patterns, in order to mitigate potential conflicts.

"While otters largely stay within the waterways, they may occasionally visit residential properties with ponds as the fish there are easy prey for them," he said in the post.

"We understand the residents’ concerns, and NParks and the OWG have been working with residents and estate managers to implement measures to prevent otters from entering, such as meshing up gaps in gates and erecting otter-proof barriers for ponds.

"With these measures in place, the otters are likely to move on as they are unable to access the ponds for food."

Limitations of how otter population can grow

NParks said on Monday that there are now 170 otters in Singapore, in about 17 families. The Straits Times reported the population as 150 otters in April, already up from 79 in 2017.

The ones on the main island are smooth-coated otters, while small-clawed otters can be found in Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. Tthe smooth-coated otter is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

NParks added that the highly territorial nature of otters, competition for space and mortality will limit how much the population can grow.

"The community can help by observing otters from a distance, and refraining from approaching or feeding them, especially when there are pups present as the adults would become protective," said Tan in his Facebook post.

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