Wild Otters: Threatened and traded

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Kontinentalist

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 02/06/2021

Credit: Gwyneth Cheng, Julia Janicki, Wild Otters


Gwyneth is immensely curious about the way the Earth works. An Environmental Biology graduate, she is particularly interested in environmental issues and the many ways in which human beings are intertwined with the natural world.
Julia Janicki is a freelance data journalist, data visualization designer/developer and cartographer with a focus on environmental issues, biodiversity conservation, democracy and human rights. Julia is from the U.S. and Taiwan, and currently lives in Paris. Her academic background is in conservation biology, entomology, remote sensing and Japanese.
Wild Otters Research is an entrepreneurship founded in 2018, with three core verticals in mind: wildlife research, education and outreach. Our projects aim to fill data deficiencies in the current knowledge of various species, and collaborate with local communities and authorities to facilitate better understanding of our environment and the importance of conservation. We are members of the IUCN SSC Otter Specialist Group, an international community of researchers supporting otter conservation efforts around the world.

Project description:

A data-driven story about the wild otter trade. For this piece, we worked with Wild Otters, a non-governmental organisation that is a member of the IUCN SSC Otter Specialist Group. We also worked with Julia Janicki, an experienced data-story developer and environmentalist.

Impact reached:

In Singapore, our wild otters are popular for being charismatic and adorable, but many locals aren’t fully aware of the threats they face. Asia contains the biggest market for otters—they are killed and traded in large numbers across the region as pets and for their body parts.

For decades, many conservation groups and wildlife protection organisations have been working to bring more awareness and halt the illegal animal trade, and since wild otters are one of the most traded animals, we thought a story that focuses on their plight would showcase the severity of the situation.

We extracted the data for the species that are traded, the amount of otters traded each year, the main reasons they are traded for, as well as how the online obsession with cute animals have put these otters—and other charismatic animals—at risk. The data was then inserted and converted into this interactive data story to make the topic and information easily digestible for our readers, as well as to let them know how they can help.

Techniques/technologies used:

The base technologies used include HTML, CSS, and Javascript in order to build interactive visualizations on the web. We also used Bootstrap for responsive layouts, and jQuery and Lodash for easier DOM manipulation and utility purposes.

For the two maps, we used Mapbox studio to style the base map, and Mapbox GL JS (JS library) to render the Mapbox map onto the web page, as well as add points to the map and add filtering functionalities. Arcs between points on the map were calculated using Turf (JS library).

For the line and bubble charts, we used D3, another JavaScript library, to draw the svg elements dynamically based on the data.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult part about this data story was coordinating with all the partners involved. It was crucial that we communicated often because the representatives at Wild Otters are experts in the topic, and Julia Janicki is well-experienced in coding environment-related data stories.


As Kontinentalist has always been an advocate for conservation and wildlife protection, this was an important topic for us to write about. We also made sure to consult experts in the field to ensure that our story was accurate and insightful.

What can others learn from this project?

The use of interactive data visualisations help to communicate important data to our readers. We also used maps to showcase spatial data, since it was important to showcase the scale of trade across countries and regions.

We also used eye-catching illustrations to ensure that our readers will stay involved in the piece throughout, as the goal was to ensure that the reader reads the last section, which contains the call-to-action.

As much as possible, we make the effort to partner up with experts. Their insights often make for a much more insightful story, and sometimes they are able to provide datasets that we wouldn’t be able to easily find on our own.

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