27 Jan
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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

21 January 2011

Look! Otters!

19th January 2011

This is ridiculous.

Here at Sungei Buloh wetland reserve on Singapore they have smooth-coated otters. They have a small pond right outside the information centre, barely ten metres across, with a sandy bank on the far side of it. And a pair of otters have been resting on the bank and swimming in the pond for the last two hours and counting. It’s ridiculous! I can buy an ice cream and come back to watch them some more. They’re entirely habituated to humans at the info centre, to the extent that a score of schoolkids charging up to the pond yelling “Look! Otters!” doesn’t even wake them. About the only thing to trouble them are the monitor lizards they share the point with; some of those big waste-disposal machines need a bite on the tail if they come too close.

Needless to say, we’ve got some really good smooth-coated otter photos. But it does feel strangely like watching otters at a zoo, even though these are every bit as wild as the pesky hairy-nosed otter we spent 34 hours waiting for in a tiny hide in a flooded forest.

But it’s good to find odd spots like this, where wildlife has got familiar enough with a benign human presence that anyone can see them up close. In Britain the only place like this for otters is Tobermory harbour on Mull, where there is an otter who fishes in the harbour oblivious to gawkers. Of course, he’s only there sometimes and we were unlucky on our visit. Equally, many people surely visit Sungei Buloh and have no idea that otters sometimes play in the little pond by the information centre for hours at a time.

These otters stuck around almost three hours, and treated us to displays of: eating, sleeping, grooming, sleeping, playing, lizard-tormenting, sleeping, swimming and terrapin-chewing. I don’t think the otter had any luck getting into the terrapin’s shell, as he dropped it in the water eventually. I also think it’s probably a regular game; the terrapins in the pond all had a very put-upon expression. Biting lizard tails seems to be a regular game as well. The monitors like basking on the same bank, and despite being four times the weight they always lose out if the otters decide they’re invading personal space.

We’ll be off to Australia in four weeks, and that’ll mean a 14 week break from seeing otters. For as everyone knows, there are no otters found anywhere in Australasia. So thank you to the Sungei Buloh otters for such a great final viewing.

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One Response to “Look! Otters!”

  1. Meryl says:

    Hello Maureen and Matthew!

    I’m a student otter researcher from the National University of Singapore and I have to say that I really enjoyed the blog posts that documented your otter sightings. I’m glad that Sungei Buloh gave you your most enjoyable sighting as well. The otters have been there for slightly over 13 years now.

    I am currently studying their diet among other aspects of their ecology. I was wondering if you could share the photos you have of them feeding on the fish and the terrapin they tried to eat? You can find out more about my project here – blog.nus.edu.sg/sgotters/.

    Always glad to see others share a passion for otters. All the best for your quest to spot otters!

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