An otter delight at Gardens by the Bay

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 1, 2014 

Unexpected guests have been roaming the Gardens by the Bay lately, to the astonishment of visitors and delight of staff who are anxious to make them feel right at home.

A pair of smooth-coated otters was seen in recent weeks entering the park from Marina Reservoir. They boldly ventured through the park's Supertree Grove in broad daylight and fed on fish in its lakes.

The creatures - one male and one female - can now be seen in the downtown park almost every other day, say park researchers.

Just on Wednesday, the male otter was seen splashing about in the Dragonfly Lake and even gambolling on the boardwalk as stunned tourists whipped out cameras.

"It makes me think of the gardens as less man-made," said 21-year-old student Chloe Besanger, who saw it.

The otter is a threatened native species that has been increasingly sighted over the past two decades, possibly driven here by land reclamation in Johor. It is found in both marine and freshwater habitats.

Predominantly spotted on the more natural northern coasts, they have in recent years begun to explore areas further south in Singapore.

Individuals have been sighted at Changi Beach, East Coast Park, Marina Reservoir, and as far as Pulau Semakau.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote on his blog yesterday that having otters "right smack in the city" was "marvellous".

Sixty to 100 of the "thriving" mammals may exist here now and the usually shy creatures may be getting bolder as they meet more humans, said wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai.

But he added he was "not confident" that the otters would settle in Gardens by the Bay permanently because granite breakwaters would not be suitable breeding ground.

Park researchers see their presence as yet another promising sign that the two-year-old park is becoming the haven for wildlife it was intended to be.

"That we have such wildlife is quite a testament to the place," said Gardens by the Bay deputy director for research Adrian Loo. "Sometimes people forget that this was reclaimed land."

Bird species sighted there have doubled in four years to 91. These include Lesser Whistling Ducks, and rarely seen migratory birds like the Daurian Redstart.

Butterflies, another indicator of a healthy ecosystem, are also faring well. Fifty-one out of Singapore's 306 butterfly species have been seen.

Mr Loo credited the park's diverse range of trees and shrubs for the surge in wildlife.

His team of five researchers is getting help from the National University of Singapore to study the otters. They will erect signs advising visitors to keep their distance.

The park is also preparing wildlife guidebooks. A 3ha wildlife "corridor" of greenery may also be set up to help birds and insects to flourish.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 1, 2014

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