Otters play in streets as they look for new home

A screengrab from a video of a family of smooth-coated otters frolicking in the empty streets outside Mustafa Centre, a shopping mall in the Little India neighbourhood, on Friday. PHOTO: CONTRIBUTOR TO OTTERWATCH
A screengrab from a video of a family of smooth-coated otters frolicking in the empty streets outside Mustafa Centre, a shopping mall in the Little India neighbourhood, on Friday. PHOTO: CONTRIBUTOR TO OTTERWATCH

As the country enters the third week of its circuit breaker period and with most people cooped up at home, animal residents unbound by safe distancing rules are taking this opportunity to explore urban spaces now empty of humans, as they have never been able to do before.

On Friday, one family of smooth-coated otters took to frolicking in the empty streets outside Mustafa Centre, a shopping mall in the Little India neighbourhood. A video of the playful animals has been circulating on WhatsApp.

National University of Singapore biology lecturer N. Sivasothi told The Sunday Times that the family of seven - consisting of two parents, three adult pups, and two pups from a more recent litter - is exploring the areas around the adjacent canals looking for wider hunting grounds. He added that they have been on the lookout for bigger territory since January.

This is the same family that was found splashing in the swimming pool of a condo in Newton and roaming outside Tan Tock Seng Hospital last month, he noted.

"Now that there are fewer people and cars, the animals are able to sit down for a rest outside areas that they normally can't because of the crowds," said Mr Sivasothi. "I call this the (circuit breaker) effect."

Mr Sivasothi, who is part of the Otter Working Group, pointed out that the family had previously raised the pups who were born in October last year at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. But now the pups are grown and the family needs to find a larger territory.

"When the pups are young, the otters need shallow water areas because that's where the parents teach them how to swim and hunt," said Mr Sivasothi.

"The Botanic Gardens might be good as a nursery site, but it's not good for long-term hunting.

Unfortunately for this family of otters, most of the existing hunting spaces in the Central Watershed - which includes the Singapore River, Kallang River and the naturalised river at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park - are already occupied by other otter families, so they have to keep searching, said Mr Sivasothi.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 26, 2020, with the headline 'Otters play in streets as they look for new home'. Print Edition | Subscribe