Otters Reconquer Thai Beach in Tourists’ Absence

Otters cuddle up on the beach May 29, 2020 on Koh Phayam.

RANONG — Wiggling out from the water, rubbing their backs and bellies along the beach weren’t the usual crowd of tourists, but of rare sea otters.

Residents of Koh Phayam in Ranong Friday spotted at least 10 smooth-coated otters playing on the beach, months after tourists left the island due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m so excited and happy to see them,” Jutharat Ladkaew, owner of a resort on Koh Phayam who posted photos of them online said. “Instead of sunbathing farangs and families vacationing, we have a new group of sunbathers.”

Jutarat counted around 10 otters. They are believed to have swam from the mainland, around the wetland area near Kra Buri River which serves as a boundary between Thailand and Myanmar.

Ranong, along with many other provinces, had shut down its air, sea, and land borders following the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed local wildlife to recover. Natural areas in Thailand have seen wildlife populations bouncing back due to the lack of visitors. 

“The otters are playing in the water, sunbathing in place of the farangs,” Sonchai Ui-tek-keng, president of the Tourism Council of Ranong said.  “This shows that Ranong is so rich in biodiversity.”

Smooth-coated otters, found in Southeast Asia and India, are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to urbanization, aquaculture, and pollution, with their population continually decreasing. Ranong fishermen do not habitually hunt otters, which are nicknamed “Wetland Fairies” in Thai. 

Thailand is home to three other types of otters: Asian small-clawed otters, Eurasian otters, and hairy-nosed otters. 

An otter sunbathes.

Related stories:

Wild Animals Thrive in Pandemic, But Some are Starving

Shark Population Increases After Maya Bay Tourist Ban: Officials