In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.
In recent years, Singapore has seen a rise in otter sightings. Once on the brink of local extinction, these critically endangered creatures are now thriving.
Otters can be found in wetlands, mangrove forests, rivers, lakes, and rice paddies. They find shelter in mangroves, where they breed and hunt for an array of prey. However, pollution and habitat loss from the decline of mangroves due to deforestation threatened their survival in the 1970s.
When Singapore started its greening movements, cleaning up its waterways in the 1980s, expanding conservation efforts, and integrating more green and blue spaces within urban areas in 2001, the otter population rebounded.
You can find two otter species in Singapore—the small-clawed otter and the smooth-clawed otter. They are both listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In certain regions of Asia, these otters face the threat of poaching for their skins. The ongoing illegal trade further threatens the species.
Common name: Smooth-coated Otter
Scientific name: Lutrogale perspicillata
The smooth-coated otter is most common species in Singapore. They are the largest otter in Southeast Asia and have a distinctive smooth, velvety coat. They forage for larger fish most of the time. Their also feed on crabs, shrimp, mudskippers, frogs, and birds. They are regularly seen at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve but have been spotted in locations like Singapore Botanic Gardens, Marina Bay, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, and reservoirs. According to Nparks, there currently about 170 smooth-coated otters island wide.
Common name: Small-clawed Otter
Scientific name: Aonyx cinerea
The small-clawed otter is more elusive and mainly found in off-shore islands such Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong. It is the smallest species of all 13 species of otters found around the world. As their name implies, they have very small claws that don’t extend beyond their webbed feet. They have brown to light brown fur and a pale chest, throat, cheeks and chin. They primarily feed on crustaceans and molluscs like crabs and snails but will also eat small fish, insects, frogs, bird eggs and other small aquatic animals.
Otters are highly social creatures. They use body language and touch, smells, and calls to communicate. And they like to forage and travel in groups of up to twelve or more. They are also incredibly resilient. In Singapore, the smooth-coated otter has adapted well to our urban cityscape. They have been seen using concrete and grass for grooming, and choosing small gaps and crevices under bridges as resting sites or dens.
Living in a city where nature intertwines with urban life through parks and water bodies, we must learn to live alongside with wildlife. How can we share our rivers, reservoirs, and coastal wetlands with the otters?
What to do when you encounter otters?
- Keep your hands to yourself. Do not touch, chase or corner the otters. They may look cute, but they are carnivores with sharp teeth (remember the otter in Zootopia?).
- Observe them from a distance. Getting too close to the otters may frighten them.
- Keep your snacks to yourself. Do not feed the otters. They have food in the natural environment. And their eating habits keep the ecosystem balanced and healthy.
- Pick up any trash you see. Do not litter or leave any sharp objects in the water. Clean and safe waterways filled with fish make healthy habitats for the otters to swim and feed in.
- Keep your dog on a leash. Wildlife and pets can harm each other.
- Call an emergency hotline if you see an otter that seems injured, trapped, or sick. 📞 NParks’ 24-hr Animal Response Centre or ACRES
If you come across otters in the wild, we encourage you to (safely) capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.
Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!