Credit: Public Domain
Wild 10-12 years
Captive 14 years
Fish, Crabs, Frogs
The African clawless otter is found across much of Africa. They are noticeably absent from the Congo basin where the Congo clawless otter is found. This species overlaps with part of their range.
These animals are carnivores which primarily hunt in the water. A favored food is crabs with fish, frogs, birds, insects and small mammals also consumed.
Young otters are not born with instincts for how to swim or hunt. These are skills which must be taught by their mother.
Across their range they are threatened by habitat loss and alteration, hunting and capture in fishing gear.
Read on to learn more about these magnificent mammals.
What does the African clawless otter look like?
Across the upper body they have short, dense brown fur which helps to insulate the body when they are in the water. On the underside they have white fur.
The bi-colored pelage is an adaptation which provides camouflage while in the water and on land.
At the end of their body is a tail which adds between 41 and 67cm (16-26in) long. The muscular tail and short limbs are adaptations which help to push them through the water.
Their rear feet have webbing. Despite their name a small claw is present on the 3rd and 4th toe of the rear feet. On their front feet their are no claws.
On either side of the face are white whiskers which can be used to help find prey.
An average African clawless otter will measure 73-95cm (29-37in) long with a weight between 10 and 16kg (22-35lbs). They are the second largest of the freshwater otter species. Males may be slightly larger than females.
They are slightly larger than their close relative the Congo clawless otter.
What does the African clawless otter eat?
African clawless otters are carnivores which will feed on a range of animal prey including crabs, frogs and fish. Some populations along the coast will venture out to sea to hunt octopus.
They are equipped with large teeth which help them to crush their prey.
Prey may be eaten while treading water or they may return to the shore.
Credit: Mark Paxton of Shamvura Camp, Namibia, who releases it under the licenses below. JMK (talk) 20:54, 2 November 2013 (UTC), CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Where can you find the African clawless otter?
Africa is the native home of the African clawless otter. Here they have a wide range across the continent in the following countries – Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d’Ivoire; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; South Africa; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.
These animals are not present in the Congo Basin. Their range overlaps with the Congo clawless otter in Uganda and Rwanda.
They have the widest range of any African otter species.
What kind of environment does the African clawless otter live in?
African clawless otters are considered aquatic and rarely venture far from fresh water. They will make use of estuaries and mangroves. In parts of their range they are present in brackish water.
These animals are often seen in towns and cities and will occupy rivers that have high levels of pollution.
Each individual maintains a home range. Those of males may overlap with multiple other males and females. Their territory is marked using their scent.
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How does the African clawless otter produce its young?
Pairs will come together during the mating season. This is primarily during the dry season but can occur year round.
After mating the male has no involvement with raising their young.
Between one and five pups will be born after a 60 day gestation period. The mother will nurse these for two months. A mother must teach her young to swim and feed which is not instinctive.
The young are born with their eyes closed and will remain hidden until these open at four weeks old. The young are weaned off of milk at eight weeks old. Pups become independent from mom once they are a year old.
Young are born with tiny claws on all feet which are lost as they grow.
Sexual maturity is reached by one year old.
What does the African clawless otter do with its day?
These animals live in small groups made up of a female and her young which are rather playful with one another. Outside of the breeding season they live alone. A group of otters is known as a raft.
African clawless otters are highly aquatic and spend much of their time in the water. They are considered slow and clumsy on land.
A range of vocalizations including a growl, whine, chirp and hiss are produced by these animals. A quick hah sound is produced as they enter the water.
In parts of their range they are considered crepuscular while in others they may be nocturnal. During the day they will seek shelter in a dry space under a rock, dense vegetation or in a burrow.
Credit: Public Domain
Predators and Threats
What is impacting the survival of the African clawless otter?
Natural predators of this species include Nile crocodiles, pythons and birds of prey such as eagles.
Numbers of the African clawless otter are decreasing across their range. This is primarily based on decreasing reports of sightings. The species is not well studied.
These animals are dependent on freshwater ecosystems and the decline in these is proving a major threat to the species. Other areas of habitat are also subject to clearing, deforestation, siltation and drainage.
They are hunted in parts of Africa for their skin and other body parts. Some are also killed due to a view that they compete for food which is viewed as an important source of income for local people. It is also believed by some people that they take poultry from farms.
Some populations have been affected through being caught and drowned in gill nets or fish traps.
They may also be known as the cape clawless otter.
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Jacques, H., Reed-Smith, J. & Somers, M.J. 2015. Aonyx capensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T1793A21938767. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-2.RLTS.T1793A21938767.en. Downloaded on 24 October 2021.
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Mpalalive.org. 2021. Mpala Live! Field Guide: Clawless Otter | MpalaLive. [online] Available at: <https://www.mpalalive.org/field_guide/clawless_otter> [Accessed 24 October 2021].
Ocean Blue Adventures. 2021. Interesting facts on Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis). – Ocean Blue Adventures. [online] Available at: <https://oceanadventures.co.za/interesting-facts-on-cape-clawless-otters-aonyx-capensis/> [Accessed 24 October 2021].
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