This species can be distinguished from the sympatric spotted-necked otter by its larger size (10 – 21kg, males larger than females), greater length (120 - 150 cm), paler color ventrally and lack of spotted markings on the throat, very long vibrissae, almost no webbing on toes (hind feet partially webbed), and generally a complete lack of claws on the toes.
The Cape clawless otter, one of three “clawless” otter species looks very similar to all other “river” otter species. The long body is set on short legs with the hind legs longer than the front causing them to lope when they run. Claws are almost completely absent but for short grooming claws occasionally seen on the third and fourth digits of the hind limbs, and all digits are unwebbed. Like the other clawless otters and sea otter they rely on their dexterous and sensitive hands to capture prey. The tail is long, stout, and tapered toward the tip. The sides of the face, neck, throat, belly and ear edges are white to cream colored. The dorsal portion of the coat is dark brown, greyish-brown or pale tan, dense, and lustrous. Guard hairs can reach 25mm; the underfur is lighter in color and much finer than the guard hairs. The whiskers are whilte. long and numerous. Like the other otters the Cape clawless depends on its coat, and not layers of fat for warmth. The Cape clawless otter possesses a pair of anal scent glands used for scent-marking.
Dentition is adapted for crushing crustaceans and skull bones of large fish.
CITES Identification Sheet
English: African clawless otter
French: Loutre à joues blanches
German: Weisswangen-Otter, Fingerotter
Kiswahili: fisi maji kubwa
Swahili: Fisi Madji
This species occupies a range of habitats from rainforests to open plains and, at least historically was found in semi-arid country. Their only requirement is that they live near water and can be found occupying rivers, streams, reservoirs, lakes with clear water, swamps and streams, fish farms, canals and ditches, and also beaches, rocky shores, mangroves, and mudflats - wherever sufficient food is available. They will travel widely over unsuitable habitat in search of new feeding grounds. Populations of Cape clawless otters are known from coastal areas of South Africa where they are known to forage equally in the sea and coastal freshwater marshes.
The Cape clawless otter’s distribution, which is closely associated with water systems, extends from Senegal in the west, to Ethiopia in the northeast, and south to South Africa.
Red List Category LC (Least Concern)
Year Assessed 2008
Assessor Hoffmann, M.
Evaluators Reuther, C. & Hussain, S.A. (Otter Red List Authority)
This species is widespread with a large, stable population. IUCN currently lists the Cape clawless otter as a Species of Least Concern and it is listed on CITES Appendix II.
At present, this species is not under severe pressure. The most important threats to the Cape clawless otter today are increasing human populations and the resulting changes to their habitats. These include pollution of water systems, increased siltation and agricultural run off and the introduction of the Louisiana red crayfish which has altered the prey base in some of their previous range. While the otter does prey on the crayfish, the seasonality of the crayfish and heavy predation on them by other species appears to have impacted the otters in some areas (Ogada 2005 and in prep.). Additionally, the otter is hunted for its pelt and medicinal purposes in some areas and killed in others as a perceived competitor for fish, particularly in areas where the rainbow trout has been introduced. The impact of persistent drought in parts of their former range and the seasonal disappearance of streams and rivers previously known to flow year around has yet to be thoroughly investigated.
Although legal protection is in place, it needs to be enforced on the ground. Greater awareness of the species, its needs, and its importance in indicating good human habitat is needed amongst the public and local authorities. Further research is needed on distribution, population dynamics, ecology, threats and cultural relevence, in order to devise useful management principles. As a precautionary measure, protected areas should be established with the support of local communities.
Current Research and Conservation Priorities (OSG Frostburg, MD 2004)
The following priorities were established for Africa during the last meeting of the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group:
to take action via international or national bodies to achieve that otters and their habitats will receive protection in more than the 29 out of 54 African countries where they currently afford full or partial (i.e. only in conservation areas) protection.
- to expand the network of information sources on otter distribution data by establishing further cooperation with conservation and research institutions or projects being already active in Africa and targeting even at other species, with African universities and research agencies, with park and reserve staff, and with safari and tourist guides.
- to establish a network of qualified trainers and advisors (from Africa and from abroad) having practical experience with field work on otters in Africa, who are willing and able to train and to advise newcomers for survey and research projects.
- to identify priority areas where research on the distribution of and/or on threats to otters should be carried out if financial and personnel resources are available.
David Rowe-Rowe, Jan Nels, Michael Somers, Mordecai Ogada, L.H. Watson, A.J. Lang, C.H.G., Arden-Clarke, C. Carugati, D. van der Zee.
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