Swimming lazily along waterways at the Marina Bay and scampering across busy roads in the heart of the city, otters have become a significant part of Singapore’s landscape.
Even if you haven’t encountered them, you would have seen photos and videos, or even recognise them as a national icon (cue: the adorable otter mascot that, not long ago, paddled across our screens on the TraceTogether app).
While we’ve been sharing our island with these furry creatures for a while now, there’s a lot that many of us likely still don’t know about otters in Singapore – which is why we share some facts about otters and their habitat this World Otters Day (26 May)!
Psst, we’ve also rounded up some otter-ly adorable items that otter lovers can get on this special day, in the next section of our article.
What you need to know about otters and their homes
Two species of otters live in different parts of Singapore
Often spotted in our rivers, canals, reservoirs, mangroves, and coastal areas, smooth-coated otters are the ones we most commonly see in Singapore. They are the largest otters in Southeast Asia, and have velvety-smooth coats, which is why they have their name!
They eat fish, but also smaller creatures like crabs, clams, and snails. Since smooth-coated otters are highly sociable creatures, they often move about in groups of more than 10. They communicate with each other through smells and calls, and you might spot them playfully tumbling around!
The other otter species that’s a much rarer sighting in Singapore is the Asian small-clawed otter, the smallest of 13 otter species we have in the world. They can be found on our offshore islands, Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.
Otters inhabited our island long before we called it our own
Many of us might think that we’ve been welcoming otters to live harmoniously with us, letting them roam our parks and cross our busy roads today. However, what we may not realise is that otters were, in fact, inhabitants of this island long before Singapore was founded.
Even before Sir Stamford Raffles arrived on the island’s shores in 1819, otters had their homes here. Forested landscapes, at that time, were being destroyed to make way for agriculture. By 1883, over 90% of the forest had become plantations for rubber, sugarcane, and pepper.
For the otters, that meant the massive destruction of their habitat, and, sadly, the extinction of many species. By the 1960s, no thanks to water pollution, deforestation and the result of other human activities, the species extinction rate of otters in Singapore was estimated to be over a huge 70%.
The otter population, smooth-coated and small-clawed otters included, vanished sometime during the 1970s to 1980s, their homes no longer fit for their habitation.
Cleaner waters give otters a chance to thrive again
It’s a pleasant surprise then, that otters were spotted again at Sungei Buloh in the 1990s – after totally disappearing from the banks of Singapore. One reason for these furry creatures’ return? Cleaner waters.
First seen at Sungei Buloh, Pulau Ubin, and Changi, otters later began moving to more prominent areas in the city like the Marina Reservoir and Singapore River (say hello to the Zouk otter family!).
We’re now able to spot these playful creatures rolling around the banks at the heart of the city, with huge thanks to the now cleaner waters – hugely different from the once murky, rubbish-filled waters of the Singapore River, before the Clean River Campaign from 1977 to 1987.
Besides clean waters, our country’s increasingly connected green spaces are also allowing otters a chance to thrive in Singapore. For example, the Park Connector Networks (PCN) that many of us use to take leisurely walks over the weekends, at the same time, help otters to access the natural, green spaces in our urban city!
Humans and otters – unlikely friends?
One thing that we can learn, at the end of the day, is that we can’t take living alongside these mammals for granted. After all, otters had once vanished from the shores of Singapore.
Otter watcher groups like Ottercity and OtterWatch certainly play a role in helping to bridge the gap between humans and otters by sharing information about these mammals. Groups like NParks and ACRES also help to raise awareness about otters as well as advise us on how to live alongside them. For instance, when the Anchorvale otter family ventured towards Seletar in search of a new home, NParks and ACRES teams distributed pamphlets to the residents there.
So, if we want to continue seeing the furry, playful creatures thrive in our “garden in a city”, we’ve certainly got much to learn in terms of how to coexist harmoniously – human and otter – starting this World Otter Day!
Otter items to own this World Otter’s Day
Hipster otter brooch
Decorate your bag or jacket with this cutest otter brooch that reminds us a little of the cartoon otter that’s featured on our TraceTogether app.
Shop the otter brooch for S$1.26 on Shopee.
Scrunchies are the trending hair ties of 2022, which is why you can add to your scrunchie collection with these ones that are sprinkled with the most adorable otter illustrations.
Shop the otter scrunchie for S$1.50-S$3.50 on Shopee.
Round otter stress ball
Feeling stressed out at work? You can vent your frustrations on this squishy otter stress ball – it looks like the otter’s just as burnt out as you might be feeling.
Shop the otter stress ball for S$19.49 on Shopee.
Otter plush keychain
If you can’t wait to see your furry friends, then take one of them with you wherever you go with this otter plush keychain. Since the keychain is from Mandai Wildlife Reserve, you’ll also be showing your support for Singapore’s wildlife when you purchase this soft otter keychain.
Shop otter keychain for S$9 on Shopee.
Otter pencil case and wrist pad
This otter pencil case also doubles as a wrist pad for when you’re typing on your keyboard. If you flip the otter belly-side down, you’ll find a zipper; open it and you’ll be able to place your pens, pencils, and other stationery inside.
Besides, if you’ve seen the pictures taken by otter watchers on Facebook groups like OtterWatch and Ottercity of otters lazing belly-up on the sand, you’ll know that this smiling otter looks almost like them.
Shop otter pencil case and wrist pad for S$16.16 on Shopee.
Large otter plush toy
As much as we would love to get up close with the playful otters that we spot along our island’s waterways, they’re wild animals, which means we can only observe them from a distance. You can, however, cuddle up nice and snug with this large otter plush toy that’s available in 40cm, 60cm, and 80cm sizes!
Shop large otter plush toy for S$20 to S$32 on Shopee.
Cute otter journal stickers
For those who enjoy bullet journalling, these cute otter journal stickers are perfect for you! Stick them in your diary and let them brighten up the pages with their many #relatable expressions.
Even if you’re not someone who journals, you can stick them onto your laptop or use them to decorate glass jars – whatever way you please!
Shop otter journal stickers for S$0.64 on Shopee.
“I Love You Like No Otter” children’s book
Settle down into a bedtime routine with your little one, with no otter (as the book title’s pun intended) than “I Love You Like No Otter” by Rose Rossner, a book about the love that mums have for their precious children – as expressed by the many animal characters, of course.
Shop “I Love You Like No Otter” by Rose Rossner for S$15.60 on Shopee.
Otters with sushi mug
The smooth-coated otters that forage for food along the waterways in Singapore are often spotted holding fish with their two little paws, and munching happily on them with loud crunches echoing along the banks. So, it’s amusing that this mug has the otters holding sushi topped with salmon and prawn sashimi – close enough.
Shop otters with sushi mug for S$19.99 on Shopee.
Eugy Dodoland Wild Sea Otter 3D Puzzle
Since it’s a puzzle that’s suitable for children, really, anyone can put together this lovely wild sea otter 3D paper puzzle, which can be used as a cute piece of decor on the desk or shelf!
Eugy’s puzzles are also made from biodegradable cardboard, 100% recyclable, and printed with eco-friendly ink, a nod to the earth and the otters living in its wild.
Shop Eugy Dodoland Wild Sea Otter 3D Puzzle for S$19.47 on Shopee.
Warmgrey Tail Otter Pop Stand
Warmgrey Tail is a husband-and-wife brand that designs products with minimal, adorable Korean-style illustrations. Its otter pop stand features an otter with rainbow whiskers, so you can hold onto your phone easily or set it to stand on the table in style.
Shop Warmgrey Tail Otter Pop Stand for S$22 on Shopee.
GeekShare Nintendo Switch Sea Otter Casing
Gamers, mint green is all the trend now when it comes to a palette for your gaming setups. And, great news, because this GeekShare Nintendo Switch Sea Otter Casing has the best of both worlds: otters and mint hues.
Shop GeekShare Nintendo Switch Sea Otter Casing for S$20.80 on Shopee.
Featured image credit: OtterWatch