Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Otterman speaks at the library: Tales of the Thunder Crab and other secret stories of Singapore's wildlife

Saturday afternoon. 15 July 2006. Woodlands Regional Library. About 25 people or more (excluding myself) -- majority adults -- turned up for an hour's talk by Mr. Otterman, Siva. He's a researcher with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NUS.

BTW, that's not the title of his talk (more about that at the end of the blog post).

That's Siva, in his office attire -- polo-shirt and bermudas.
Siva Otterman giving a talk

Just a sampling of what I learnt from his session:
  • The mangrove is a dangerous place if you are a crab
  • Our very own Bukit Timah has more species than Africa (plant? animal?)
  • There's a fish called a Cowfish in Singapore (a boy exclaimed "cowfish?" out loud, heh)
  • Asia has 4 species of otters, whereas there's only 1 specie in the west (I learnt how to tell apart at least 2 different species. Also, while I've never asked Siva why he's called the Otterman, I think I know now -- he knows his otters!)
  • Siva's a smooth presenter. Jokes at appropriate intervals. I particularly enjoyed his stories about the crabs -- leaf-eating crabs, crabs that eat algae, crabs that eat termites, crabs with spines, tree-climbing ones, crabs in Teochew cuisine... If you do meet Siva, do ask him about the story of the researcher who got bitten by a Thunder Crab
At one point, his Macbook Pro ran out of battery power. "You are now running on reserve battery power." I bet he thought, "I miss my ibook".
Siva's Macbook Pro running out of battery juice

Next picture shows Siva (left) and colleague, submerged in the Sungei Buloh mangrove reserve at high tide, with what he called (tongue-in-cheek) their high-tech tools of the trade -- $2 fish net and ordinary stick with a hook (the kind used for taking down clothes/ bamboo poles). Boy asked, "Excuse me, if your friend is in the water, won't the fish bite her?" (photo not shown here).

The slide caption says "Mangrove are safe"...
Mangroves are safe

... and then the next slide Siva chooses to show crocodiles. Siva was quick to add that he's a living and breathing example that the crocodiles do not pose a danger to humans at the wetland reserve (otherwise, he won't be standing there giving a talk after wading around in the mangrove).
Crocodiles spotted at Sungei Buloh
According to Siva, the crocs at Sungei Buloh are well-fed on fish, so they leave humans alone pretty much. But still, don't try to pet them. (Boy asked again, "Excuse me, how did you take the photo?" Ans: A colleague took the picture, from a distance with a telephoto lens.)

Then he surprised the audience and thrilled the kids with a movie clip of monitor lizards wrestling.
Videoclip of monitor lizards fighting

He showed more photos than I had time to take. The 1 hour just went by. He informed the audience that more information and references to pictures can be found at his website -

His talk was publicised as "Dolphins, Turtles, Otters and other Secrets of Singapore". I suggested to Siva it might have been called "Tales of the Thunder Crab, and other Secret Stories of Singapore" but he said that might not have made sense to people. Besides, the keywords that brought in the audience were Dolphins, Turtles, Otters... he does have a point.

Nonetheless, I have a suggestion for the title of his next talk on crabs -- call it "What if crabs were superheroes?" (perhaps this would make more sense if you'd heard his presentation).

Siva should try volunteering at the library to tell stories (to kids or adults, doesn't matter). He's good with pictures and words. I liked how he regaled the "saga of the turtle hatchlings that swam back". Again, that's something you have to ask him about if you have a chance to meet him.



  1. You learn something new every time he talks. I'm endlessly fascinated.

  2. My gosh, this is such interesting stuff! Both you and Siva have so much to share, I wish I was there! :(

  3. Hey, how come we never got invited to Otterman's talk? But Woodland is a bit far for me. When's the otter showing up at Marine Parade Regional Library?

  4. Victor, the Otterman didn't invite me either. I guess he didn't want anyone us to turn up. When I did, he thought it was bad form to tell me, "go away!" so he let me stay. LOL

  5. Yeah I should have informed you guys at Forgot lah. Thanks for the blog post Ivan. It's nice to see the "other view".


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