The otters of Singapore

JULY 9 — Step aside people of the city, it is time the government introduces another category in all identification cards and gym membership application forms.

From today, the carefully cultivated and pointlessly insisted upon Singapore racial construct that will be implemented is CMIOO

The second O is for our animal friends — otters.

In the last months, these gentle creatures have commandeered parks, headlines and our hearts with their antics and adventures.

From flirting with a crocodile to scuttling through the city, this pack of merry beasts are indeed the newest and biggest influencers to be found.

Step aside all you social media superstars, the real thing is here.

Dubbed “Singapore’s celebrity urban otter family” by the BBC and included in the annals of documentation by the definitive wildlife expert, David Attenborough, there has also been tragedy and heartbreak as with all stars you watch closely.

Most recently, the suspected poisoning of the patriarch from one bevy of otters caused understandable distress.

Smooth-coated otters are often spotted in Singapore’s mangroves and coastal area. — Picture courtesy of NParks
Smooth-coated otters are often spotted in Singapore’s mangroves and coastal area. — Picture courtesy of NParks

But all emotions aside, the otters are a crucial part of the Singapore story despite their small size and less than grandiose standing in the animal kingdom.

The presence and persistence of these smooth romp of swimmers instils the hope that it may be possible to achieve the potential of Singapore’s green city mantle.

Perhaps it is possible to have a living concrete jungle? The state has put in some thought and effort towards achieving this goal with green corridors and protected zones but we need to go further.

Near my neighbourhood there has been an onslaught of developments on what was previously undeveloped green areas.

Large swathes of Mandai and Lower Seletar that were previously serene pockets of green space and a stark contrast to the busy expressway that ran parallel have been steadily ripped down making way for the relentless demand of infrastructure.

Eco-Lodge — a full service hotel with 400 rooms — will occupy a plot of land about the size of six football fields, or 4.65ha and best exemplifies my fear with these projects.

Are we whitewashing the tearing down of trees and the displacement of indigenous species of fauna and animals with “feel-good” names like Eco and Green slapped onto entirely commercial ventures?

Are you rolling your eyes at my idealism? I understand the need to create jobs and drive economy but it is terrifying that we are so single-focused that we risk removing all the life that our island holds.

A cheeky piece in Singaporean portal Mothership sums it up with the lyric: They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum and charged the people a dollar and half to see ’em.

But, these romping otters... they give me hope.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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