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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

African Clawless Otter

The African Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis), also known as the Cape Clawless Otter or Groot Otter, is a species of freshwater otter found through most of sub-Saharan Africa, except for the Congo basin and other arid areas. They are found near permanent bodies of water in savannah and lowland forests. They can also be found anywhere from open coastal plains, to semiarid regions, to dense forest areas. Logs, branches, and loose foliage greatly appeal to the otter as it provides shelter, shade and great rolling opportunities. The African Clawless Otter is a member of the weasel family Mustelidae, and is found in the order Carnivora.

The African Clawless Otter has thick, smooth fur with a silky underbelly. It is chestnut colored. It is characterized by white markings on the face that extend downward toward the throat and chest area. It has partially webbed and clawless feet. The paws have five fingers, and no opposable thumbs. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th digits on the hind feet do have claws however. It has a large, broad and flat head. Its molars are large and flat and used for crushing prey.

The African Clawless Otter builds burrows in the banks near the water to provide easy food access and a quick escape from danger. It is mostly nocturnal in urban areas and hide in bushy habitat during the daytime. The diet of the African Clawless Otter includes water dwelling animals such as crabs, fish, frogs, and worms. It dives after its prey to catch it, then swims to shore where they eat it. They use their hands as searching tools and are great for digging on the muddy bottoms of ponds and rivers, moving rocks and logs to look underneath. Their whiskers are extremely sensitive and are used as sensors in the water to pick up the movements of possible prey. Their main predator is the python. Other predators are crocodiles and fish eagles. If threatened, the otter will emit a high-pitched scream to alert other otters and confuse the predator.

The breeding season takes place in short periods throughout the rainy season in December. After mating, both male and female go their separate ways and return to a solitary life. Gestation lasts about 63 days. The female gives birth to a litter of 2 to 5 young in early spring. The female raises the young alone. Weaning takes place between 45 to 60 days. The young reach full maturity at around one year of age. Though mostly solitary, the African Clawless Otter will live in neighboring territories of family groups of up to 5 individuals. Each will keep their own range, unless seeking a mate. These territories are marked using a pair of anal glands which secrete a particular scent. These otters are very territorial over its range.

As it can become very hot in this species’ range, staying cool means spending lots of time in the water and using burrows as a way of escape from the highest temperatures of the day. On the other hand, to keep warm, the otter depends solely on the its thick fur. Guard hairs cover the body acting as an insulate. Since the otter lacks an insulating layer of body fat, their only means of staying warm is provided by their thick coat of fur.

The African Clawless Otter’s biggest threat is made by humans. The otter will often forage in man-made fisheries causing humans to hunt and kill it. It may also get tangled in the fishing nets and die. Over-fishing by humans also may reduce the food supply available to otters. The African Clawless Otter is also hunted for its thick soft pelt. In forested areas, logging may be a threat since erosion leads to devastation of water habitat and can cause reduction in fish populations. This may be a much bigger threat to otters than hunting. The African Clawless Otter is now endangered. The Otter Trail, is a hiking trail in South Africa named after the African Clawless Otter, which is found in this area. Otters along the trail are protected, as the trail falls within the Tsitsikamma National Park.

African Clawless Otter