Singapore struggles with the “unprecedented” otter boom.

Singapore authorities have an unusual source of chaos on their hands: an exploding otter population.

Amid a resurgence in interactions between floating mammals and humans and humans in recent months, the National Parks Board, known as NParks, is working to relocate the island’s 170 otters away from residential areas and people’s homes to otter proof.

Singapore’s smooth-haired otter population has more than doubled since 2019, with around 17 families fishing for tilapia in waterways, sleeping under bridges and ravaging private fish ponds, and on rare occasions attacking people in parks public.

Related: ‘I thought I was dying’: otters attack British man in Singapore park

“They are not afraid and the boldest families walk past us,” said N Sivasothi, a professor of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore. “There isn’t a place in Singapore where you would be completely isolated from otters.”

In 2020, NParks received 208 citizen reports of otters, followed by 305 in 2021 and more than 300 in August. Although most reports are sightings, otters have been known to lash out when threatened.

Last week, Sivasothi and the otter working group, comprised of NParks, wildlife experts and city otter observers, completed the island’s first relocation to an estate in the Seletar area of ​​the city.

The mission, which lasted nearly a week, involved luring six otters from the hiding place they had dug under a footbridge and moving them to an unfamiliar location with natural food sources.

The otters visited the estate for months to pluck fish from its ponds, at one point they broke into 10 homes in one night, Sivasothi said. Then the family had cubs and took up permanent residence near a busy road, a potential danger to both otters and people.

Tan Kiat How, Singapore’s minister of state for national development, communications and information, wrote on Facebook that the operation went “smoothly” and urged Singaporeans to avoid approaching or feeding the animals. The team was also helping property managers patch up fences, fill in otter areas, and remove attractants such as koi, he said.

“Living in our city in the middle of nature means that we live with wildlife such as otters and we can observe them among us,” he said. “As we enjoy the benefits of this, we also understand residents’ concerns about raiding their properties.”

Graham Spencer was attacked by otters at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Photograph: Joseph Campbell / Reuters

The otter population has been recovering since the 1980s when Singapore began cleaning up its waterways. Their numbers are increasing in part because the otters are in no significant danger from other predators and only encounter crocodiles in a wetland mangrove in the northwest of the city.

Fish populations have also increased as waterways have become less polluted and have provided food in abundance. Otters are now an increasingly common presence on urban streets as they claim more territory for themselves. At times, that presence can become threatening. Last year, a British man living in Singapore said he “thought he was going to die” when a herd of otters chased him around the botanical gardens, pinned him to the ground and bit him 26 times in seconds. Months earlier, a 77-year-old man was bitten in the leg during his morning exercises near the Kallang River.

Otters play in the water next to the Merlion statue

A family of wild smooth-coated otters are spotted alongside Singapore’s tourism icon, the Merlion. Photography: Xinhua / Rex / Shutterstock

Other episodes of human-otter interaction were less severe. A condominium tower in the River Valley area received a visit in which otters caught koi and had fun in the pool, while a church reported that nearly 100 fish had been eaten in a similar incident. “The pastor just joked that we now have fewer koi,” said one Facebook user. “I joked that the otter should go to the otter (altar) and confess Sunday service.”

In addition to eating koi – which can be expensive, costing a homeowner $ 64,000 – they are known to stop traffic.

Local “ottergraphers” are dedicated to catching sightings on popular social media pages. NParks advises people to keep a safe distance and refrain from touching or cornering pets, especially when there are puppies around.

“We are facing something unprecedented,” Sivasothi said. “Initially it was only urban otters that used the spaces in Singapore, and then, as the population grew and competition forced them to enter the urban matrix, now we have to adapt.”

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