SINGAPORE - Appreciate the otters, but only from a distance. That is the message from otter enthusiasts after a five-year-old girl was bitten by an otter at Gardens by the Bay on Saturday (Dec 30).
According to a report by Channel NewsAsia (CNA), 45-year-old Julien le Tourneur D'Ison, who works in marketing, was near Satay by the Bay with his wife and three children, aged five months to six years old.
"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," Mr Le Tourneur told CNA, adding that his daughter’s wound required surgery as it was deep.
At the time, two members of the OtterWatch group were present. The group is an informal community that tracks where otters are found in Singapore.
One of them was Ms Goh Mei Woon, a 50-year-old housewife.
"People saw the otters in the pond and they got very excited. Lots of families and children were crowding around," she told The Straits Times. She estimated more than 20 people crowding around some 10 otters, five of which were babies.
"I was going around telling people to give the otters space. Some were standing so close, they were within touching distance of the otters," said Ms Goh. "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. I saw someone coming over, who might be a staff member at the Gardens, with a first aid box."
A spokesman for Gardens by the Bay said that visitor services staff assisted the family by helping them get a taxi to the nearest hospital.
Veteran otter-watcher Jeffery Teo, 46, said: "Animals can't talk, so they react when they get stressed out. The bite it gave was a warning to tell humans to stand back. It could have been anyone who got bitten."
Mr Teo advised people to stand at least 10m away from otters, especially when they have babies. "We need to respect animals like humans. They're wildlife, not tame pets."
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, 48-year-old Bernard Seah, said that otters do add a "dimension to the experience of visiting Gardens by the Bay", and it would be a pity for that to change.
"Maybe we can have a group of otter watchers who informally help out at places like the Gardens where the otters are. It's not to police, but to provide information and make sure everyone is safe," he suggested.
The spokesman for Gardens by the Bay added: "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. As such, there is signage along the promenade to advise visitors not to approach them, and instead observe them from a distance.
"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.
There have been several instances of wild animals attacking people. In October, a man was attacked by a wild boar in the Bukit Gombak area when the animal charged at him.