THEY are a crowd favourite in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Pasir Ris Park, but not so on the island of Sentosa.
Wild otters have apparently expanded their hunting grounds to ornamental koi ponds on Sentosa and are now targeting multi-million-dollar bungalows and even the garden pond of a hotel. Their hunting spree is believed to have started around late April and lasted about three weeks.
An employee of the hotel, who declined to be named, told My Paper that about 80 of the 200 koi housed in the hotel's pond were preyed on by a pair of otters, resulting in losses of about $20,000. About 55 of the remaining 120 were badly injured and had to be disposed of.
"They're very smart," the employee said of the otters' modus operandi.
"They come out to feed only in the wee hours, when there's nobody around, and go for the stomachs of the more valuable fish."
Based on eyewitness accounts from other staff and closed-circuit television footage, it is believed that the otters entered the hotel via the beach.
My Paper understands that the pair have eluded capture despite attempts to trap them. The hotel released the surviving 65 koi back into the pond on Friday and they have remained safe - so far.
Residents on the other side of Sentosa have similar woes. Sentosa Cove resident Maria Chandra, 51, lost $64,000 worth of koi overnight.
"I was so heartbroken," recalled the housewife in Mandarin. Her maid alerted her to the "gory scene" in her Ocean Drive home one morning in late April. The mutilated remnants of her pet fish floated belly-up in the bloody pool, with some bitten in half. Many were missing their tails, while a few struggled weakly in their death throes.
"I have lived on Sentosa for the past three years without incident, and this event coincided with the otter sightings on Singapore shores. Other koi owners in the area have also suffered from this problem," said Mrs Chandra.
She had received a letter from the Sentosa Cove management before the incident, alerting residents to wild otter sightings in the area. It reassured residents that these animals were not aggressive, but should be avoided nevertheless.
When contacted, the Sentosa Development Corporation confirmed that a letter was sent to Sentosa Cove residents, but declined to comment further.
Meanwhile, Charles Wee, 42, is no stranger to the Sentosa otter problem. The farm manager of Max Koi Farm was first alerted by a frantic call from the Chandras, who had bought their koi from the farm. According to Mr Wee, two other clients in the area have encountered similar problems, with their koi dying or disappearing overnight.
Founder and chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) Louis Ng, 37, confirmed that the descriptions fit those of smooth-coated otters, which are bigger than the small-clawed oriental otter also found in Singapore.
"The otters are probably preying on the koi as they are easy to catch in the pond," he told My Paper. He advised members of the public against approaching the animals upon sighting them.
Should members of the public see any injured otters, they can call the Acres Wildlife Rescue Hotline on 9783-7782.
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