NOVEMBER 21 — The Singapore public loves their otters. Period.
Their activities are often reported in the local dailies, photos uploaded on social media and heck even their daily movements are tracked by the civil society-led OtterWatch group on Facebook.
So, when one of the otter pups (nicknamed Aquarius) from the Pasir Ris family was found with what appeared to be a metal wire around its body, the Otter Working Group (OWG)* quickly sprang into action by launching operation “Free Aquarius.”
And after three full weeks of intense stalking, Aquarius was finally captured, treated and released on Thursday, the 16th! The metal wire was revealed to be a rubber ring.
OWG and operation “Free Aquarius” are in fact shining examples of what can be achieved when we get the right people in the same room. It could have easily gone awry if one party was to claim ownership or legality over the other.
On the home front
In light of recent events on the home front, I can’t help but notice the contrasting fate of Malaysian wildlife.
Wildlife dying post-confiscation, multiple road kills and that tapir rescue gone wrong. Yes, I might be cherry-picking issues but the fact of the matter is that we are not as capable as the OWG when it comes to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
The latter issue has shown that there is no clear-cut protocol for wildlife rescue. Is PERHILITAN or the Fire and Rescue Department responsible? Furthermore, the presence of authorities did not stop members of the public from mutilating the poor tapir.
That brings me to my second point of public apathy.
Save for the efforts of a few NGOs like the WWF-Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society and EcoKnights, we have not managed to capture the general public’s attention in a way the otters of Singapore have.
Even then, this sentiment is very urban-centred. Ironically, it is the people who have the least contact with wildlife who are the most aware.
Tragedies in the past few months and the success of our neighbours highlight the need of a multi-stakeholder approach when it comes to wildlife rescue in Malaysia.
Going one step further, authorities have to initiate the move away from a government-knows-best mindset; instead dissipate authority to well-qualified and trained organisations. There can only be positives from this venture.
For example, cost-sharing on the government’s front and an avenue for NGOs and civil society to participate in wildlife rescue. Neighbouring countries have already headed down this path, to differing degrees, with ACRES in Singapore, Fuze-Ecoteer in Indonesia and ENV in Vietnam.
While attending the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) regional workshop in Singapore, I was lucky enough to be granted an audience with not one but two otter families (Marina and Bishan) that live in close proximity.
It was pure joy to watch them go about their cacophonous daily activities; hunting in the Singapore river, drying themselves in sand and finally retreating quietly to their holt.
No wonder the Singapore public are smitten.
I believe Malaysia has as many, if not more equally charismatic animals. Perhaps, the challenge now is to bring their cause into the limelight and to the right crowd to warrant reforms in animal rescue.
* The working group consists of the National Parks Board (NParks), Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), Public Utilities Board (PUB) and National University of Singapore (NUS).
** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.