River “wolves” of Singapore

In the heavily urbanized island of Singapore, there are little space for an abundance of wildlife to roam. The most abundant wildlife that Singapore offers on land are the birds and insects. Although Singapore has about 50 species of mammals, most are never seen by the public eye. Mammals that I commonly encountered here are the Long Tailed Macaques and the Plantain Squirrel. Occasionally, Colugos and Slender Squirrels can be spotted. I had a couple of encounters with the Wild Boars at Pulau Ubin as well.

Recently over the past one and a half year or so, I have managed to had 3 encounters with another mammal of Singapore, the Smooth-coated Otters (Lutrogale perspicillata). My first sighting of wild otters in Singapore was when I spotted them fishing at Lorong Halus back in March 2013. As a mammal person, it always excites me whenever I encounter an uncommon mammal in Singapore. There are 2 species of otters in Singapore, the Smooth-coated Otter, and the smaller Oriental Small-clawed Otter, which I had yet to encounter.

The Smooth-coated Otter, as its name suggest, have fur that are smoother and shorter than the other otter species. They can be found in the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. They are usually found at the coastal areas, mangroves and mudflats of Singapore, such as Sungei Buloh, Pasir Ris, Woodlands, Kallang, Marina Bay, Changi etc, where there is a nearby source of freshwater available. They have also been spotted further inland in the Central Catchment Area and Bishan Park.

Smooth-coated Otters are social animals and are often seen travelling in groups of 4 or 6 individuals in Singapore. Large groups of up to 12 individuals have been seen locally as well. Despite their cute appearances, they are formidable and efficent hunters. In Singapore they have been known to provoke the crocodiles without fear, often chasing the reptile away. They feed mostly on fish, but do eat reptiles, amphibian and crustaceans as well. Once caught, they will devour the fish head first using their front paws to hold onto the prey. They can frequently be seen feeding in an upright position.

The Smooth-coated Otters are noisy animals and one can easily track them down by listening to their whistles or chirps. In Singapore, the best chances to see the otters is at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. They can be seen swimming along the river hunting for fish. They are used to the presence of human and you may have a chance of an close encounter with them when they come ashore to cross to another pond or river. Bishan Park, Kallang River and Marina Bay are also good spots to see the otters as well.

When encountering otters, allow them space to go about their daily business. Otters are curious animals and may come really close to you.  Should you have a close encounter with them, make yourself look small by squatting down or keep low so as not to frighten them with your height. Do not make any fast or sudden movements as it may startle them.

In Singapore, the Smooth-coated Otter is listed as a critically endangered species, and as a vulnerable species worldwide. The main threats are the loss of wetland habitats due to urbanization. If these habitat continue to be lost to urban development, we may never be able to enjoy such a scene in Singapore in the future.

DSC_4231amy first wild otter encounter in Singapore at Lorong Halus


second encounter at Sungei Buloh:



DSC_4303a DSC_4329a



third encounter at Sungei Buloh:

DSC_4815a        DSC_4835a




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© [Dennis Ong] [DennisOngPhotography], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Dennis Ong] [Dennis Ong Photography] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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