When Meryl Theng wanted to work on otters in 2010, she didn’t know I had been waiting for a student like her to turn up for a few years now. Smooth-coated otters first returned to the mainland in 1998 at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and were now in enough areas in the north-east as well, for a research project to be viable. It was time to put together our observations and submissions we had been receiving through email and Mammal Sightings in Singapore and to validate those sightings in the field.
The student would have to be tenacious, and the rest could be taught. That was Meryl with otters indeed.
As otters were occurring quite commonly in some areas and near enough for even handphone photos to be good enough for species identification and family counts. So the Facebook page OtterWatch (http://fb.com/otterwatch) was setup to recruit sightings of otters from people in Singapore.
And boy, did they report! OtterWatch is now a means of highlighting the many wonderful images and videos shared by a large group of photographer-naturalists. With the links to various people, it is a launchpad for people here and abroad to discover otters in Singapore and the many people photographing them.
OtterWatch has become a moniker for the community or network of people who not only submit photos publicly, but who share immediate an critical information about otters through What’s App and email, with myself and a few critical other people in NParks, ACRES and Wildlife Reserves Singapore and who receive updates about ongoing action. This has contributed significantly to conservation advise which has been extended to various entities on numerous occasions.
After many accidental conversations, we finally took this a step further to form the Otter Working Group earlier this year. This group will include more entities, to enable early consultation and planning ahead. The natural maturation was spurred on ultimately by the otters!
But before our formal assembly, the working group was spurred into action when an abandoned otter cub was rescued, resuscitated and returned to his family group in May this year – OtterWatch plated a critical role, and the operation involved relevant people NParks, WRS and NUS. We consulted ACRES and kept AVA informed of the rationale behind the operation, plan of action and timeline.
Banner by Max Khoo, otter photo composites by Jeff Teo
On 24 Jun 2016, my current otter student Max Khoo, announced that the Facebook page had reached 5,000 likes. He is thrilled by the outreach impact of the page which he manages now and its contributors. And so is Nicole Duplaix, chair of the IUCN-SSC Otter Specialist Group (OSG). In an effort to boost Asian otter research to address the crisis in the region, she brought the OSG’s 13th International Otter Congress to Singapore and is keen to highlight the efforts of OtterWatch as we develop a manifesto for otter conservation in Asia.
As Nicole and SMS Desmond Lee from the Ministry of National Development welcome the 100+ researchers, educators, researchers and conservationists to Singapore next Monday, Adrian Loo and I will introduce the Otter Working Group through the story of the rescue of the pup, named ZooToby by OtterWatch, to illustrate how we worked together naturally. I will elaborate the detailed mechanics over two decades later in the week.
We’ll be sure to quote Jeff Teo’s description of the process, in Audrey Tan’s article about the rescue of the pup (The Straits Times, 19 May 2016):
“The rescue and reintroduction of Toby has demonstrated an unprecedented collaboration and ‘make-it-happen’ spirit between members of the public and across multiple agencies. Everyone puts in their best, not for pride nor glory, we just want to bring Toby home. This is humanity at its best form.”
Photo by Jeff Teo