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Asia Minute: Otters make a controversial comeback in Singapore

a pair of sea otters
Wong Maye-E/AP
FILE - An Asian small-clawed otter, the smallest otter species in the world, feeds on fish in its enclosure at the Singapore Zoo on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A famous urban center in Southeast Asia has become the scene of an unusual wildlife story. It centers on the return of a species that's still officially listed as endangered, but is also making a controversial comeback.

The smooth-coated otter is getting a lot of publicity in Singapore these days — even outside the country.

A Washington Post headline recently screamed that “Otters are Taking Over Singapore.”

The Guardian took a more measured view: “Slippery, hungry, sometimes angry; Singapore struggles with 'unparalleled' otter boom.”

Struggles in life are relative, and what's going on with otters in Singapore is not a matter of life and death.

Unless you're a fish in a local koi pond.

The decorative species of carp are popular in Singapore — not only among those wealthy enough to stock their own personal ponds — but also among the otters.

One result: losses of koi reported in the tens of thousands of dollars — plus smaller losses of goldfish.

Back in the 1970s, between pollution and deforestation, otters became scarce in Singapore — becoming critically endangered.

By 2017, the National Parks Board reported 79 otters in Singapore — last week, that number was up to 170 — split among about a dozen families.

Park employees are moving some away from residential areas to parkland — but the government says overpopulation is not a concern.

By the way, if a group of otters is together in the water, you call them a “raft of otters,” but if on land, that would be a “romp of otters.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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