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© WWF-Hong Kong

Of the 13 species of otters in the world, Hong Kong is home to one: the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra). Eurasian otters are mainly nocturnal, but their mysterious night-time activities make it difficult to find and track them, so scientists – and the general public as well – don’t know much about them. What we do know is that rampant development and other human activities in wetlands are threatening the lives and habitats of these special creatures.   

The Wetland Incubator project has gathered experts and groups of citizen scientists who are scientifically minded detectives. They will observe and record otter signs like spraint and footprints that will allow us to better understand their distribution and population status. Design teams with inventive minds and nature-loving hearts are also being invited to help raise public awareness of otters by developing various information campaigns.   


Joint Study on Hong Kong Otter Ecology

Otter Citizen Scientists

 Otter Citizen Scientists
© WWF-Hong Kong

The efforts of Wetland Incubator citizen scientists in monitoring otters over the programme’s first two years are beginning to bear fruit, as we have gained a greater understanding of their behaviour. Also, the camera traps deployed by the team have captured some rare and precious footage that is especially important for the on-going study of mammal distribution within Mai Po Nature Reserve.

Recruitment for citizen scientists Programme - Year Three ended in Apr 2023. Some of the previous participants will become group leaders, transferring their knowledge and experience to new joiners. We look forward to seeing some exciting monitoring results in the third year – together we can help drive research into Hong Kong otters forwards!

Spraint Detection Conservation Dog

Spraint Detection Conservation Dog
© WWF-Hong Kong

Detection dogs have successfully assisted in spraint surveys around the world. The Wetland Incubator project recognised the potential of including dogs to detect spraints in Hong Kong and began to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of this method.

The team invited a Border Mongrel to participate in our pilot research. The dog will go through different training stages and assessments, including environmental desensitisation and odour detection training – conducted off-site at first, then at the Reserve. This will be the first pilot project to use a detection dog for conservation purposes in Hong Kong. If it is successful, this could pave the way to help preserve and protect other local wild animals.

Trainer Garay and Aljo have begun conducting indoor and outdoor training at Mai Po Nature Reserve. During training, Aljo would wear working dog vest and be on a leash. If you meet them during your visit to the Reserve, please give them plenty of space!

Otter Education Design Team

 Otter Education Design Team
© WWF-Hong Kong


This design team was formed in November 2021. After a field trip to Mai Po and a wide-ranging workshop, the team quickly began to brainstorm and plan a series of otter public education activities. Riding on World Otter Day in May, the team designed and ran the “Little Otter Painters | Colouring Competition 2022” and held the “Oh My Otter” festival with an exhibition, workshops and local arts and crafts market.

The educational materials produced by the team are reused in the 2023 "Where’s Otter? -- Come join World Otter Day” Exhibition at the Central Market, which educated over 6,000 guests about the local otter species.



Otter Spraint Platform

Otter Spraint Platform
© Lok Sin Tong Wong Chung Ming Secondary School

Observing and collecting otter spraints is an excellent way to understand their distribution and identify individuals. Given the knowledge that otters mark their territory by placing spraints on prominent features, the project initiated a cooperative programme with Lok Sin Tong Wong Chung Ming Secondary School to design man-made platforms that will act as accessible prominent features for the otters. The platforms will also be equipped with an infrared camera to record the behaviour of otters that use them. The programme allows the students to utilise design thinking to create a platform that can withstand changes in water levels – a more holistic approach to finding and collecting spraints.

By June 2022, students had completed a series of field trips and otter workshops. After the designing and building process, their work is finally completed and deployed in the reserve. Field tests has begun to ascertain the effectiveness of the platform.

Eurasian Otter Awareness Campaign and Storybook Production

Eurasian Otter Awareness Campaign and Storybook Production
© Alan Kan @PolyU

As the Eurasian otter is not widely recognised among Hong Kong citizens, most mispronounce "otter" in Cantonese. If a storybook and campaign about the Eurasian otter could be designed, highlighting its body features, habits, and the threats it faces in the form of a story, it is believed that it would generate more interest among the public and help them become familiar with this mysterious species.

Therefore, we have invited students from the School of Design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to use their creativity to bring this idea to life. This task is not easy, as it requires finding a balance between portraying the otter's fascinating personality and maintaining accuracy in depicting its physical features and the environment.

We are eagerly looking forward to their creation!

Artificial Otter Holt Design Challenge

Artificial Otter Holt Design Challenge
© WWF-Hong Kong

Deep Bay wetlands serve as an important habitat for the Eurasian otter. Yet, it remains a mystery on where the local otters rest, sleep and reproduce, as otter holt has never been found in Hong Kong. Given the threats and challenges faced by the local otter population, it is crucial to make an effort to enhance their habitat and expand our research on otters in Mai Po Nature Reserve, which could potentially be the last refuge for the species. One widely adopted method to achieve this is by building artificial otter holts.

We are now calling for design proposals for Artificial Otter Holt Design Challenge.
Anyone with creativity and a curiosity about nature is welcome to join. A Design studio, Mudwork will also collaborate with us on this project. This challenge will combine innovative conservation design with craftsmanship to create the holt.

Individuals or groups with feasible designs will receive:  
•  A field visit to Mai Po Nature Reserve
•  Guidance from WWF’s Habitat Management and Research Team on active wetland management and the Eurasian otter, which will help them fine-tune designs to be more feasible
•  Instruction from professional crafts experts on craft techniques
•  Certificate of appreciation  

The selected design(s) will be constructed and deployed at the Reserve. It will hopefully offer a secure place where otters can rest, sleep, and even breed and raise their cubs.

Participation options:  
1) Individuals: 18 years old or above  
2) Teams (up to 4 members per team):  
- 18 years old or above, or  
- Secondary school students led by a schoolteacher (each school can send more than one team)  

Project proposal toolkit [Click here download toolkit]:  
•  Basic information on the Eurasian otter
•  Artificial otter holt references
•  Design proposal guidelines and criteria

  Register for the Zoom briefing
(Deadline: noon, 13 Oct 2023)
  Submit design proposal
(Deadline: noon, 5 Nov 2023)




13 Oct 2023, noon

Registration deadline for the zoom briefing about Eurasian Otter and the Artificial Otter Holt Design Challenge

14 Oct 2023, afternoon

Zoom briefing about the challenge and a Eurasian otter overview (Applicant will receive the zoom link through email)

5 Nov 2023, noon

Deadline for submitting design proposals  

Designs with potential will be selected for the next stage

18 Nov 2023

- Visit Mai Po Nature Reserve for a site walk and workshop
- WWF-Hong Kong facilitators and mentors will guide participants and fine-tune their designs

16 Dec 2023

Design Showcase Day

- Prototype design sharing

Selected final design(s) will advance to the final stage

2024 Jan - Mar

- Work together with WWF-Hong Kong facilitators and craft experts to build the final design
- Deploy design
- Monitor effectiveness  


For questions and enquiries, please email ellachan@wwf.org.hk and mkwok@wwf.org.hk