The surprising choice of a family of relatively rare otters as a national symbol of Singapore to mark the 51st year of independence early this month must have offered many Singaporeans a moment for pause.
The briny, moustachioed mammals, dubbed the Bishan 10, beat Singlish into second spot in a poll of this newspaper's readers to mark National Day. Those who thought that Singlish, more than any other candidate, better reflects the ubiquitous commonality that binds Singaporeans - naturally, uniquely and for so long - underestimated the power of the senses over sensibility.
The fact that many who voted picked the once-forgotten otters may prompt the perception of a change in public attitudes towards preserving wildlife in an intensively urbanised environment like Singapore . But not so fast. Barely a month prior to National Day, press reports revealed a different attitude among some when wildlife invaded private property.
Residents of upscale Sentosa Cove bemoaned the loss of their expensive pet fish to otters, forcing several residents to install barbed wire and electric fences. A year ago, a man was caught on video trying to bait an otter with a fishing hook along the Kallang waterway. The contrasting attitudes are a more accurate reflection of the nuanced state of public perceptions of wildlife preservation today. Many who say all wildlife species should be saved may not walk the talk if the choice involved sacrificing the privacy and sanctity of their hard-won urban creature comforts.
If the wildlife in question showed fewer human characteristics, support might wane. For instance, less photogenic but equally precious species like bats or wild boars might not be cherished and could even be hounded. If the nation's rich biodiversity is diminished through extermination or neglect, all Singaporeans will be poorer for it.