Otters are cute, but it is best to watch them from afar, said otter enthusiasts after a five-year-old French girl was bitten by one at Gardens by the Bay yesterday.
The incident happened when Mr Julien le Tourneur D'Ison, his wife and their three children aged five months to six years, were near Satay by the Bay, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reported.
There were some tourists who were "really excited by a bunch of otters swimming back and forth", the 45-year-old Frenchman told CNA. "We saw a bunch of otters swimming towards us. We were about 1m away and an otter jumped out and bit my daughter's foot," he said, adding that his daughter's wound required surgery as it was deep.
Two members of the OtterWatch group were there at the time. The group is an informal community that tracks otters in Singapore.
One of them was Ms Goh Mei Woon, a 50-year-old housewife. She estimated that more than 20 people were crowding around some 10 otters, five of which were pups. "I was going around telling people to give the otters space. Some were standing so close, they were within touching distance of the otters," Ms Goh told The Sunday Times.
"While I was still telling people to stand back, I heard a scream and saw a girl crying because she had been nipped in the foot."
She said someone with a first-aid box, who might be a Gardens employee, went to help the girl.
A spokesman for Gardens by the Bay said its visitor services staff got a taxi to take the family to hospital.
Veteran otter watcher Jeffery Teo, 46, said: "Animals can't talk, so they react when they get stressed. The otter's bite was a warning to humans to stand back."
Mr Teo advised people to stand at least 10m away, especially when there are pups. "We need to respect animals like humans. They're wildlife, not tame pets," he said.
Mr Le Tourneur also acknowledged that there were many people surrounding the otters then, and that the animals "must have been scared or nervous with so many people pulling out their cameras".
Another otter enthusiast, Mr Bernard Seah, 48, said the mammals add a "dimension to the experience of visiting Gardens by the Bay", and that it would be a pity if that were to change.
"Maybe we can have a group of otter watchers who informally help out at places like the Gardens where the otters are," he suggested.
The Gardens spokesman said people should remember that otters are wild animals.
"Otters are often spotted at Gardens by the Bay along the promenade area facing Marina Bay. While they may appear tame, they are nonetheless wild animals and may react if visitors get too close," he said.
"There is signage along the promenade to advise visitors not to approach them, and instead observe them from a distance," he added.
"But following this incident, we will be putting up additional signage to remind visitors not to touch the otters."
According to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's website, the public are, among other things, advised not to talk loudly nor use flash photography when they encounter otters. This is because noise and light may scare and provoke otters.