The smooth-coated otter Lutrogale perspicillata is one of 13 extant species of otter (Sub-family: Lutrinae) in the world. Distributed throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia, its range is continuous from Indonesia up to Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, southern China and India, with an isolated population in Iraq.
It is large and stoutly built, averaging a length of 1.2m and weight of 11kg. As its common name suggests, the smooth-coated otter possesses a velvety, dark brown pelt which is groomed and maintained. Mainly piscivorous, they chiefly inhabit wetlands, being highly adapted to hunt in aquatic medium.
Status and Distribution in Singapore
Two species of otters are reported from Singapore, namely the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea).
Once thought to be extinct after its absence in the 70s and 80s, the smooth-coated has made a comeback ever since being sighted in Sungei Buloh Nature Park in the 90s. Widespread along the Johor Straits, the number of sightings have been increasing since then, indicating higher otter presence along our shorelines.
Sightings have since spread from the northern shores of Buloh (since 1998), Pasir Ris, Punggol and Changi (2001–2007 onwards), to the southern shores of Tanah Merah, East Coast and West Coast (2012–2013 onwards). In a surprising and recent event (in 2014), two families of smooth-coated otters have established residence in the Bishan and Marina Bay environs – much to the delight of the public!
Habitat in Singapore
Records and sightings of the smooth-coated otter were mostly located in mangroves and estuaries along the Singapore’s northern coastline and Pulau Ubin. However, since 2007, they were increasingly sighted in ‘artificial’ sites such as the coastal reservoirs of Serangoon and Punggol, and even more recently in 2014, in the highly urbanised Marina Bay and Bishan Park environs.
Though it may appear that the smooth-coated otters are pretty adaptable to human impact, our studies have shown that they do require – a healthy prey base of fish, a screen from human activity and suitable den sites safe from any disturbance.
Diet in Singapore
The smooth-coated otter was found to eat mainly fish, similar to diet studies elsewhere in the region. In areas with prawn ponds (Sungei Buloh and Pulau Ubin), prawn was also found in their diet.
The smooth-coated otters do not appear to be fussy eaters. Their diet is usually reflective of the fish diversity present in the area they live in; i.e. diet is more diverse in sites with a higher diversity of fish.