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Can a bigger otter population in Singapore co-exist with people?

Otters were very much in the news this past week, after a group of them bit a visitor to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, prompting some internet users to call for the creatures to be culled. Most TODAY readers were divided on the issue. 


A family of otters seen at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 2020. Photo courtesy of Ian YH Tan

A family of otters seen at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 2020. Photo courtesy of Ian YH Tan

Otters were very much in the news this past week, after a group of them bit a visitor to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, prompting some internet users to call for the creatures to be culled.

An expert told TODAY that while the population of these animals in Singapore has nearly doubled to 150 in the last four years, it is still manageable. Most TODAY readers were divided on the issue. Some felt that the public should use common sense in the presence of these wild animals and not get too close to them to take photos, while others said that public safety must come first and more could be done to prevent similar incidents from happening.

Animals will not attack for no reason. ROXSANE K HOM

Otters are like gangsters. No law at all, raiding expensive fish and now biting people. AMY LIM

The problem will only get worse as they continue to grow in numbers. SOH ZI YANG

Reminder: Watch from a distance and do not go near. If you accidentally chance upon them, back away and give them space. JUNE SERAV

And who are the ones who keep saying otters are cute and adorable? One should always treat them like any other carnivorous wild animals. NICHOLAS HONG

The family of otters now residing at the Singapore Botanic Gardens has young pups. It is a natural instinct for adult animals to be protective over their young. TEO NAM SIANG

Each otter can weigh 25 to 30kg. Imagine 10 otters attacking you at one go. And the otters’ teeth and jaws are powerful. Just one otter to sink its sharp teeth into anyone can bring him down. And they won't let go, just like a pit bull. BRUCE BILIS

Otters look cute, but they are violent. I saw some documentary... a pack of them can kill a crocodile. DENNIS LEE

Dennis Lee, those are giant otters fighting a caiman, a smaller type of crocodile. Different species from a different part of the world. While our smooth-coated otters will disturb smaller crocodiles… there's no way they're going to kill a large crocodile. IVAN KWAN

Dennis Lee, dogs and cats and even some birds look cute and can be violent as well. Do we exterminate them, too? EDMUND TEO HUAI WEI 

When you have wildlife in a city, that's sure to happen. Moreover, the otters’ population is expanding as they don't have any natural predators. They are meat-eaters, so aggression is also expected. I think we would be chased out of our parks soon. SIM JOHAN

First, it was wild boars, then a peacock. Now, otters. HOESNY ALFIAN

Otters are frequent sightings at Bishan Park, which is full of joggers. But you never see any of the otters attacking people. Why? Because people there have common sense not to go up to the otters and take pictures of them. HENG BEN SOH

Get rid of the otters. USHA THIYAGA

Some thoughts as a regular jogger and otter-spotter: Otters move in a tight group, they move fast and they deliberately stay out of your way. That's why otter attacks on humans are rare. If you get in their way, you are courting trouble. If you encounter a bunch of otters in your path, let them go past first. If you want an obstruction-free run and want to hit your personal best timings, go onto a proper running track or treadmill. Everyone — man or animal — has a right to use public paths. IAN YH TAN

Many have argued that we need to co-exist with the otters, for it is us humans who are the usual culprits in disturbing them. That is quite a fair and reasonable statement to make. But the idea that we should avoid them does carry a flawed reasoning for they are not living in a jungle. The idea of living with them is fine, so long as their numbers are kept small and manageable. If their numbers balloon to be in the hundreds, the issue at hand is very different. Then the equation of co-existing no longer applies. A different form of containment needs to be carried out. DAVID ONG

Are we sure the issue is manageable? It’s a yes to co-existing, but no to property damage. The loss of koi at some places, especially landed property, the injuries to members of the public, and the potential safety hazard to road users when otters cross busy roadways such as Penang Road are examples. The words used should be "getting out of hand", rather than "still manageable". SMINT TEO

The otters were cute until about two years ago. Someone needs to say it: They have become a bane to many places and property. I’m (saying this as) an animal and nature lover. ZAN CHOU

How many more "attacks" need to happen before we do a serious review of this matter? Mind you, the recent attack was on a big guy. I fear for the young kids and elderly people. And how many more otters can Singapore have before it is considered excessive? This is not the first incident and will not be the last. ROY ROD

The otters are well-loved by many. Even if they attack me or my children, we won’t ask for them to be culled. Usually, it’s because of provocation that they attack. We should be wary and careful around them. That’s logic. NOOR JULIANA

Being a frequent runner at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, I can say the issue is always humans. Once they see the otters, they will always rush and crowd around to take photos. So guess whose fault is it if one gets bitten? JASMINE LIM

Often, wildlife will not disturb humans voluntarily — many of them are shy creatures and will try to shun us. Most of the time, humans are the ones who are curious and try to get closer to them. We crossed the line in order to get closer to them to take selfies and so on. The wild animals’ instincts are then activated and people get injured. Then these people would start to think of ways to get rid of them. Is it fair to the animals? Just stay away from them and we can all co-exist peacefully. BOON LIANG CHAN

This is surely a divisive issue. Of course, public safety is a priority but, if culling becomes the solution, where does it stop? Stray dogs, monkeys and wild boars are a problem, too. Indeed, wild boars have caused more serious injuries, so is culling also the answer to that? This is especially so with animals that are endangered. There is no clear answer. Proper studies need to be done to manage this situation. Perhaps... efforts could be made to enhance their habitat areas near water, so they don’t tend to leave them in search of more space or food. Maybe it’s time for a proper wildlife study and management department in Singapore. FERREOLUS CHUA 

These comments were first posted to TODAY’s Facebook page or sent to Voices. They have been edited for clarity, accuracy and length. If you have views on this issue or a news topic you care about, send a letter to voices [at] with your full name, address and phone number.

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