Otters belong to a family of carnivorous mammals known as Mustelids, which includes minks, ferrets, badgers and wolverines. Mustelids have long, slender bodies and relatively short limbs.
In Singapore, we can find two species of otters. The most commonly seen species on mainland Singapore is the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). It is listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. On some surrounding islands, namely Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong, we also can find the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinereus), which is also listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Both species are native to Singapore and the region.
The Asian small-clawed otters are the smallest of all 13 species of otters found around the world. They are found in shallower waters and feed on molluscs, crustaceans and other small creatures. They are elusive in Singapore.
The smooth-coated otters are the largest otter in Southeast Asia, and is named after their velvety smooth coat. They are often spotted in our rivers, canals, reservoirs, mangroves, mudflats and coastal areas, where they forage for fish. They also feed on crabs, prawns, frogs and other small creatures.
The smooth-coated otters are highly social animals that uses smells and calls to communicate. They have webbed paws that are highly adapted for swimming and burrowing. The smooth-coated otters are playful creatures, and can be seen in groups of more than 10. Roaming around as a single otter is part of the process of growing up. They will disperse to look for a mate, new territory and then start their own family.
Did you know?
Otters can stay underwater for up to 8 minutes in a single breath. This allows them to hunt successfully or to escape from danger.
Being the smallest and arguably the cutest otter species in the world, the Asian small-clawed otters are heavily exploited for the illegal pet trade. It is illegal to keep otters as pets in Singapore. Do not support the illegal otter trade. Do not visit otter cafes, and do not "like" pet otters on social media posts.
The presence of otters is testament to good water quality. Researchers and scientists around the world know how sensitive otters are to pollution, so when otters are constantly spotted in a certain water body, it indicates that the water quality is favourable.
Do's and Don'ts
What should I do when I encounter otters?
Do not touch, chase or corner the otters. Observe them from a distance. Going too close to the otters may frighten them.
Do not talk loudly and do not use flash photography. Noise and light may scare and provoke the otters.
Do not feed the otters. The otters have their own food in the environment and their natural eating habits keep the ecosystem healthy.
Do not litter or leave sharp objects in the water. Clean and safe waterways filled with fish and aquatic life make good habitats for the otters to frolic and feed in.
Do keep your dog on a tight leash. Your dog might chase the otters and frighten them, and keeping your dog on a tight leash will help to keep them safe.
View, download and share the following advisories on otters with your friends, family and community!
To learn more about Singapore's otters, visit the following:
NParks' advisory on Encounters with Otter – Do's and Don'ts
OtterWatch – a Facebook Group sharing significant news of otters in Singapore. The group is maintained by N. Sivasothi (NUS) and other members of Otter Working Group Singapore.
Ottercity – a Facebook Group sharing original collections of otter stories, pictures and videos in Singapore
ONE FM 91.3's Facebook Live with N. Sivasothi (NUS) of the Otter Working Group about otters in Singapore
MONEY FM 89.3's chat with N. Sivasothi (NUS) of the Otter Working Group about how Singapore's 10 otter families (80 animals) are a thriving success story that no other urban area has seen, and how the vast majority of residents want to coexist with them.