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African or Cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis)

15 February 2016



Physical description

The coat colour varies from pale brown to almost black-brown with white, unspotted portion which covers the chin, throat, the upper part of the chest, the sides of the neck up to below the ears and the sides of the face up to below the eyes. The underside is paler than the upper one and there are off-white patches on the chest, while the abdomen is white. The whiskers may be totally white or they may be dark with wide, white tips. The coat contains long bristles which gives it a sheen.




Area and habitat


The clawless otter in South Africa is one of six subspecies that occur in Africa. In South Africa, the clawless otter can easily be differentiated from the spotted-necked otter based on its size and appearance.

Otters largely live in water and do not move far from it although a clawless otter in the Tsitsikamma forest has been photographed with a remote camera on a footpath at least 300 m uphill and away from the Sout River. The movements of otters are regulated by the availability of food and when a water source dries up they will move away. Clawless otters may penetrate arid regions deeply along rivers. In the Drakensberg Mountain Range they have been recorded in mountain streams at an altitude of up to 2 400 m above sea level.




Usually live alone but they may at times form pairs or even small family groups of up to 5 animals. Mostly active in the evening from 20:00 to 22:00.


Little is known about reproduction. Births have been recorded between March and November. Mating behaviour is still unknown but gestation period estimated between 60 and 64 days. Young otters weaned at around 8 weeks.



Swim under water, catch fish with forepaws and then kill them with a bite to the back of the head. Other prey includes frogs, toads, insects, reptiles, birds and small mammals.


Weight: 12 kg
Length: 1.2 m


Little information available. However, pythons, Nile crocodiles and fish eagles are likely predators.



Interesting facts

  • Sometimes a fish is repeatedly thrown high into the air until it is stunned and it is then eaten in shallow water, usually head first.
  • Other than the Cape clawless otter, the spotted-necked otter will eat fish from the tail first.
  • Burrows usually have more than one entrance along a tunnel that is up to 3m long.

Read the full article written by Prof J du P Bothma.



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