This is Eve, an otter pup who was only about the size of a human palm.
She was so young that her eyes had barely opened to see the world.
Otter newborn abandoned by Bishan family
Eve was found by an otter watcher on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31, 2020) at Republic Avenue of Beach Road district.
She was prematurely brought out of the natal holt by her family, the famous Bishan otters, but was left behind by the adult otters.
No otters came back looking for her and the family moved holt subsequently, as observed by otter watchers.
These were taken as signs of abandonment by the family, according to a post by long-time otter watcher Chun Kit Soo.
According to an official statement by the Otter Working Group (OWG), it is unclear why the family abandoned otter Eve.
One possibility is that otter Eve did not belong to the main breeding pair of the family but from one of the younger females.
The younger pups would not be able to keep up with the family which is moving between hunting grounds.
Otters have a complex social dynamic which could have resulted in the pup’s abandonment, OWG stated.
This is not the first abandonment case observed in the Bishan family.
In both instances, the otter pups were not given birth to by the alpha-female of the group.
Eve was eventually rescued and sent to animal welfare charity Acres after seeing no signs of reunion between Eve and her family.
A tricky rescue mission
Eve, estimated to be only two weeks old, was much younger than the otters involved in past rescue missions.
Hand-raising her proved to be extremely challenging.
Those who have been following updates on the local otters will know that as an otter grows, it learns how to swim and fish with the adults.
It takes a village to raise a child, and the same applies to the smooth-coated otter family.
All in all, it takes 10 months for an otter pup to grow to be independent.
So how does one provide Eve with the proper environment to grow up equipped with the necessary skills? How will the lack of social interaction with other otters affect her behavioural development?
Here’s another consideration that the Otter Working Group has to take into account: How do they raise Eve until she’s ready to be rehabilitated back into the wild, without allowing her to become reliant on humans?
Lack of expertise and facility
Members of the Otter Working Group which includes personnel from the National Parks Board, Acres, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, otter watchers, as well as biologist Sivasothi N., gathered in the past week to discuss how to help Eve.
Many phone calls and text messages were exchanged, and meetings were arranged for discussion and debates, Ottercity’s Facebook post said.
Unfortunately, the group came to the sad conclusion that no one is experienced enough, and Singapore does not have the right facility to raise this otter pup.
One of the key constraints is the lack of a large rehabilitation space that mimics otters’ habitats e.g. rivers, lakes, or ponds for semi-aquatic animals.
The zoo also does not have a smooth-coated otter collection to take in Eve.
If Eve were to be left in the wild, she is unlikely to survive on her own.
With the above considerations, “every step will be so experimental that it will be at the expense of Eve”, Ottercity explained.
Euthanasia is regrettably the last resort
After studying overseas cases and exhausting all possible options, the team made the tough decision to euthanise Eve.
This is especially so when smooth-coated otters are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List since 1996. This species, threatened by loss of habitat and illegal pet trade, is at high risk of extinction globally.
The OWG said:
“With the potential for successful rehabilitation unlikely, and in consideration of animal welfare, the OWG therefore made the difficult decision to euthanise the otter pup on humane grounds.
…[The OWG] values and understands the importance of the conservation and welfare of our wildlife, and the decision to put down the otter was not made lightly.”
Eve died on the afternoon of Jan. 7.
The otter community said that this is “an outcome that none [wish] to see”, but is a result of limitations that the team has to accept.
Following the euthanasia, a necropsy will be conducted by WRS to investigate if there were any health issues that contributed to otter Eve’s abandonment.
Top photos via Ottercity/Facebook