Smooth-coated otters may be few in the wild but they’re thriving in the Singaporean metropolis.
Clash of the clans: Beyond a lack of natural predators, these city otters use Singapore’s waterways as an ideal highway for moving around and for access to an abundance of fresh fish, according to BBC Earth.
In the ‘70s, the tropical country’s pollution and deforestation warded off the otters, but over the years, the city-state made triumphant moves to clean its waters and reforest its surrounding areas, according to the Washington Post.
The otters adapted quickly and many soon learned how to navigate five-lane roads and cars since their return. However, not all is well in otter paradise. Despite the easy living these otters seem to have, the growing number of otter families result in fierce clan wars.
In 2018, a video of the squeaking war cries of over a dozen otters charging at each other in the Kallang Basin went viral. Otter Facebook fan pages like Ottercity, which track the burgeoning creatures, documented when the mighty Bishan otter family and Marina otter family broke their one-year truce to fight once again over territory.
“It’s like ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” Marjorie Chong, an Ottercity admin said. “You realize everyone is just trying to survive.”
Human resident reaction: Along with a booming population are mounting frustrations with the carnivorous mammals. Between the clan clashes and otter invasions, one person went as far as writing a letter that said the city can rein in the population by shooting them with rubber bullets. Another called them a nuisance when they tore into her backyard koi pond and ate the decades-old fish her father-in-law raised "like they were at a buffet."
In 2015, a gated community and island resort of Sentosa said their koi ponds were decimated by the otters and that one hotel lost 85,000 Singaporean dollars’ (approximately $63,000) worth of ornamental fish in eight months, the National Geographic reported.
Singaporean researchers like Philip Johns embrace the “really healthy” population as it’s harder to track smooth-coated otters in the wild from all the water pollution and habitat loss elsewhere.
This endangered species has been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as vulnerable since 1996.
“The only problem we foresee now is a lack of space for these territorial animals,” Johns said.
In May 2020, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote a Facebook post calling for a means of coexisting with the otters as the city urbanizes: “...we will continue to expand and enhance our green spaces, and protect our native biodiversity. Rather than being focused on protecting ‘territory,’ we must find ways to coexist and thrive with our local flora and fauna.”
“It doesn’t have to be a concrete jungle,” Co-CEO of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society Singapore Anbarasi Boopal said. “Singapore has a huge potential to be a new model for where greenery, animals and people can learn to live in close proximity.”
Featured Image via BBC Earth
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