Friday, May 27, 2022

Otters Spotted on Campus over Winter; Likely Displaced Group in Search for Territory

Story | Avery (she/her), Staff Reporter

Video | Student Affairs Office

What do you say when you are bored out of your mind during winter housing? “If only there were otters coming into campus,” obviously.

Otters were spotted across the winter break on campus, according to several reports. On one occasion in the morning of 25 November, a solitary otter was recorded by the Student Affairs Office to be swimming across the biofiltration pond. 

The otter could be heard chirping, before landing near the stone crossing. 

Recording of Otter at Yale-NUS

Others reported seeing at least three otters at once, following ample precedent sightings across the year. On 8 June, an otter family was sighted attempting to traverse a building on the main NUS campus, generating much fanfare on Facebook and Mothership.

Philip Johns, a Senior Lecturer in Life Sciences whose research focuses on otters, commented that the otters likely arrived searching for a new home.

“The otters that live in Singapore, called smooth-coated otters, are territorial and live in big family groups called “romps”. Because they’re territorial, one romp might displace another romp—and that’s happened several times in Singapore,” he explained.

“The displaced romp has to find someplace else to live.”

While Johns also suggested the otters may have been pups who have left their families to “venture out on their own,” he believed this is less likely a possibility. Either way, otters reaching maturity eat fish far bigger than what the biofiltration pond has to offer, and it is unlikely the fish were the reason they came.

“They were probably just checking out a waterway to see if it was big enough to live in (obviously it is not). And then they left.”

While this should dispel popular fears that the pond fish were eaten, some students were concerned for the otters’ safety. One anonymous senior thought it was “concerning that they are traveling,” and hopes “they are okay.” 

Crossing the roads surrounding UTown can be dangerous for otters, since their diminutive stature and poor eyesight mean they can’t react in time to fast-travelling vehicles.

Others reacted to the situation with more amusement, like one anonymous freshman, who welcomed the introduction of “an integral part of Singaporean culture onto our campus.” 

“Otter wars are a quintessential part of the Singaporean experience,” they clarified.

Smooth-coated otters, though officially a locally endangered species, have established a reliable presence in parts of the island like Bishan and Marina Bay. While beloved by locals—even voted as a national icon—their presence have also caused frustrations, including one incident where they ate koi fish worth up to S$80,000.


Smooth-coated otters, though officially a locally endangered species, have established a reliable presence in parts of the island like Bishan and Marina Bay. While beloved by locals—even voted as a national icon—their presence have also caused frustrations, including one incident where they ate koi fish worth up to S$80,000.

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