Working Together Towards Coexistence in Seletar Hills Estate
Updated: Feb 24
Written by Jocelyn Chng, ACRES's Wildlife Management Executive February 2023
Smooth-coated otters, a species native to Singapore, started being seen at Seletar Hills estate in 2021. From May 2022, more reports of otter sightings and home intrusions in the estate were received, and Grassroots Adviser Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin, together with the People’s Association (PA) staff of Cheng San-Seletar Constituency Office (CO), contacted the Otter Working Group (OWG) to work together to address the situation.
The OWG, which includes NParks, ACRES, otterwatchers and Mr Sivasothi (NUS Department of Biological Sciences), had been monitoring the otters’ appearances in the estate since they were first sighted in 2021.
Over the course of May to December 2022, an intensive outreach effort was undertaken in the neighbourhood by the joint OWG and PA team. This included door-to-door visits, a hybrid (online and face-to-face) resident engagement session, a roadshow and trial otter-proofing exercises at two affected houses. From August 2022 onwards, the otters’ movements were also studied for two months by NUS undergraduates and otterwatchers to get a better understanding of their behaviour in the estate.
As outreach continued in the estate, it became apparent that a major challenge faced by residents was in otter-proofing their homes. Some residents had tried to install defensive measures such as gardening spikes, but had found them inadequate as otters continued to enter their premises. This was often because the installation was either incomplete, leaving gaps or ledges where otters could still squeeze through or climb over, or using materials that were not strong enough.
To address this challenge, the team identified two affected houses to install otter-proofing measures. NParks, ACRES and NUS conducted house visits with the relevant homeowners to better understand the challenges at the specific sites. Materials were then sourced and prepared by ACRES, and volunteers were gathered to install the otter-proofing at the two houses from August to October 2022.
Although there were calls from some residents to simply remove otters from the estate, the OWG believes that relocation is not a sustainable, long-term solution. If the environment remains suitable and attractive to certain wildlife, removing one or a few individuals will simply leave a gap for other individuals to occupy.
In the case of Seletar Hills estate, there were many houses with unprotected fish ponds, which are attractive to otters. Otters cannot tell the difference between privately-owned fish and free-roaming fish in canals and rivers, but private ponds can be particularly attractive because the fish there are exposed and trapped in a small space, making them easy prey to hunt. Due to the proximity of Seletar Hills estate to the Sungei Punggol-Serangoon catchment, which is host to several smooth-coated otter families, relocation of this particular family would not stop otters from coming to the estate in the long-term.
The long-term solution would thus be to ensure that private homeowners with koi ponds have the knowledge to install adequate measures to prevent otters from accessing their ponds, such that a wandering otter family would be unable to stay in the area for long due to the lack of food. OWG and NParks also shared the contacts of wildlife contractors with residents, so homeowners can work with them to otter-proof their homes.
While residents might have had reservations relating to the cost and aesthetics of otter-proofing solutions, the trials that were done by the team showed that for some houses, otter-proofing may be as simple as putting a relatively inconspicuous panel at the bottom of the main gate. Preliminary footage from camera traps installed by NUS research students showed that the measures did discourage otters from entering the same house.
Depending on the design and layout of a unit’s pond and garden, more complicated and extensive solutions might be needed to prevent otters from entering one’s premises and the potential loss of beloved pet fish.
We hope that as Singapore becomes a City in Nature, more residents can embrace the presence of wild animals in their backyards and be otterly good neighbours to our wild friends!
CLICK HERE to learn about our otters friends and download our advisories.