Man bitten 26 times by otters at S'pore Botanic Gardens says no to culling

He explained that he wishes to raise awareness of this incident so that the authorities can take greater action to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Ashley Tan | December 10, 2021, 01:05 PM

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One man in Singapore recently experienced an otter encounter gone wrong while taking a morning stroll at the Singapore Botanic Gardens with his friend.

The unexpected attack from the large family of otters left him with around 26 bites and puncture wounds on the bottom half of his body, as well as emotional "trauma" and a lingering fear of returning to the park.

Area was dimly lit

Graham George Spencer, who is in his 60s, is a Singapore permanent resident from the UK, and has been living here since 2007.

The owner of a maid agency shared with Mothership that he was taking his daily 6am walk at the Botanic Gardens on Nov. 30, something he has been doing for the past five months.

At around 6:45am, Spencer and his friend were finishing up their walk and heading towards the Gardens' entrance when the former spotted a group of "brown objects" on the path ahead.

As the sun had barely risen and the area was very dimly lit, Spencer, who was not wearing his glasses, initially believed the animals to be monkeys.

Upon moving closer, he deduced that it was a family of around 20 otters, with a number of pups in their midst.

At the same time, a runner was heading towards the creatures from the adjacent path, and proceeded to run straight into the animals. Spencer speculated that the runner did not manage to spot the otters in time.

Here's a diagram he drew of the situation when the incident occurred.

Photo courtesy of Graham George Spencer

And this was where the incident took place.

Photo courtesy of Graham George Spencer

Otters "jumped" him and "went crazy"

As the runner ran past Spencer and disappeared into the distance, the otters instead set their sights on Spencer and "went crazy".

"I didn't move quick enough and they just jumped me and they [were] on me and severely bit my ankle, made me buckle, and they jumped on my bottom and pushed me. And these things like... massive... [these] things [are] like dogs."

Spencer said that the otters even tried to bite his face, but their teeth sank into his finger instead when he raised his hands to defend himself.

The otters attacked him for around 10 seconds before his friend, who was around "15 paces" away, ran over and started hollering and kicking the animals to scare them off.

This caused the group to retreat momentarily, and Spencer and his friend managed to run away from the scene with the otters on their heels.

They reached a visitor centre nearby, and was provided with some bandages when a guard there returned from his break.

Doctor counted 26 bites

However, Spencer was still "in shock", and felt sick and dizzy after the attack. His friend thus helped him to the Accident & Emergency Department at the nearby Gleneagles Hospital to receive treatment.

There, he was given tetanus shots and antibiotics. Some of his wounds also required stitches.

Photo courtesy of Graham George Spencer

Photo courtesy of Graham George Spencer

The doctor counted 26 bites on his buttocks, legs and finger in total. An otter's bite had even managed to rip a hole in his shoe.

Thus far, Spencer has visited the doctor three times for treatment, and spent around S$1,200 in medical bills.

Photo courtesy of Graham George Spencer

Not only has the attack left Spencer with physical injuries, it has caused him to become an "emotional wreck", he said.

Spencer shared that he was fortunate his friend was around during the attack, or he believes he would have died otherwise.

"I'm convinced that if my friend hadn't been with me and it was just some little girl running... you could die. Because actually... I could not, and I'm a big guy, I could not get up. What with the trauma of being bitten, my body just could not get up.

...If you're a 40/50kg helper, running as I do that morning, or you know, anybody just on the road, then you cannot get up because it's like being amongst piranhas, they're just crazy."

He is now hoping he will still be able to sit through the flight back home to UK on Dec. 13 despite his injuries.

Offered compensation by NParks

Spencer claimed that staff at the Botanic Gardens "didn't seem to be interested" initially in his pleas to cordon off the area to prevent future attacks.

From his subsequent communication with NParks, Spencer shared that they told him they are investigating the incident and "can't say more".

However, he believes the authorities are not doing enough, and has decided to hire a Singaporean lawyer.

Spencer also revealed that on Dec. 9, an NParks staff called him to offer compensation of S$900 for his medical bills.

However, he did not respond to their offer, reasoning that his insurance covers the cost of his medical bills.

Instead, he is urging for authorities to take greater action so that others will not suffer like he has.

"I think it's pretty clear what I keep asking [the authorities]: Please cordon off the area. Do something to just stop the possibility of it happening again while [you] investigate. [...]

I think what I'm trying to do is get them to be rational and do two things. One is to recognise that there is a problem. You can't just say they're free roaming, they go all over Singapore. That's ridiculous.

I mean, you know, otters may look sweet, but they don't do anything, they don't do anything positive. They just eat your fish and swim in the lake. And that's what they do. They might look nice to look at but they're not a little puppy that you can stroke, and if a kid tries to do it, they're going to bite them."

Reactions on social media

The incident has since sparked a range of reactions on social media.

Several Facebook users have singled out the runner in question, and advised those running or jogging in nature areas to keep a keen eye out for animals and let them pass first.

Some netizens pinned the blame on Spencer, speculating that he probably provoked the otters in some way, while others remained disbelieving of his story.

A number though, took a more neutral stance, and noted that wildlife should always be admired from a distance.

Not calling to cull the otters

In response to the reactions, Spencer acknowledged that netizens were "absolutely correct" in stating that the otters that attacked him were provoked.

"People love otters as I do. I don't have anything against otters [...] Any animal that you provoke, whether they do it by accident, or on purpose, are going to react, and that's what they did. The runner, to me, was innocent because he was running up a path that he probably uses a lot. And because it was very dark, he never saw them. And he just ran straight into them. And he was treading on them. And they were obviously provoked. Yeah, absolutely correct. They were provoked."

"You can't help that they're animals and of course they're going to fight, the adults are going to save the [babies] and I totally accept that. I don't have any remorse about that at all," he said.

Ultimately though, Spencer maintains that he is not calling for a culling of the otter population.

"No I don't want that, I don't blame the otters at all [...] What I want to do is make sure that there's an area within lake that they can live happily. We can look at them and be nice to look at them. But I don't have to worry that they're going to set upon me when I'm there."

"I don't want to kill them. I don't want to harm them. I just want to make sure they're protected and the [human] population is protected," he added.

He concluded that he is sharing his story not with the aim of causing any trouble, but to inform the public.

"You know, people will always come out... and I don't quite understand it because there's no point in lying about something. I'm here as a PR. I never cause trouble. I'm here, working. This is my home, but it's not my country. And I'm not into causing trouble either. So I'm not into trying to make some claims. I'm just trying to protect us, that's all."

NParks monitoring otters' movement

In response to Mothership's queries, Tan Puay Yok, Group Director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens said in a statement that NParks is aware of the incident and is in contact with Spencer.

Tan shared that otter bites in the Gardens and parks are "rare".

He advised visitors to green spaces to be mindful of their surroundings, observe wildlife from a safe distance, avoid feeding or approaching them especially when there are pups, as the adults can be protective over their young when approached by humans.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens’ volunteers and staff monitor the movements of the otters and educate the public on the importance of observing them from a distance and not interacting with them.

Education signs and advisories have been placed throughout the Gardens to advise visitors on how to manage encounters with otters.

Here are some tips from NParks on what to do should one encounter otters:

  • Do not touch, chase or corner the otters. Observe them from a distance. Going too close to the otters may frighten them.
  • Do not talk loudly and do not use flash photography. Noise and light may scare and provoke the otters.
  • Do not feed the otters. The otters have their own food in the environment and their natural eating habits keep the ecosystem healthy.
  • Do not litter or leave sharp objects in the water. Clean and safe waterways filled with fish and aquatic life make good habitats for the otters to frolic and feed in.
  • Do keep your dog on a tight leash. Your dog might chase the otters and frighten them.

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Top photo courtesy of Graham George Spencer