Otter Watch

Following my porcupine sighting I have been having a mini fascination with the wonderful creatures on the Cape Point Route and some of the fabulous work that various individuals and organisations are doing to protect the species and our heritage. One creature I personally have NEVER seen on the Cape Point Route despite living and working here is the Cape Clawless Otter.

Here’s some info and pictures of these rarely sighted, fun loving creatures and the Peninsula Otter Watch who are researching the otters. Big thanks to Nicola Okes who assisted with information and images!

Cape Clawless Otter (Google Image – sanparks.org)

Scientific/Latin name: Aonyx capensis

Afrikaans name: Groototter

The Cape Clawless Otter is a member of the weasel family and the second largest freshwater otter.

Cape Clawless Otter (Google Images - sanparks.org)

DESCRIPTION

Cape Clawless Otters are large otters which are around 1.3 metres in length and typically weigh around 12-18 Kg with males being around 2Kg heavier than females on average. Cape Clawless Otters can weigh up to around 20Kg.

Their coats are usually dark brown in colour, with white cheeks and neck. They have no webbing on their feet and as the name suggests no claws (so their hands look like monkeys). Their sleek body shape allows them to glide through water and their coats are thick and waterproof.

HABITAT:

In the Peninsula, otters are known to occur in certain areas all along the coast from Zeekovlei to Clovelly, Glencairn, Smitswinkel Bay to Cape Point and up the Atlantic coast along Kommetjie and Noordhoek to Hout Bay.

Cape Clawless Otters need to be close to fresh water sources – rivers, streams, lakes, marshes, and dams as well as estuaries and coastal waters near mangroves or tall cliffs. As well as the water source they also require areas with suitable cover for them to use as concealment, e.g. reedbeds. Cape Clawless Otters are found in southern and eastern South Africa, Northern Botswana, the Caprivi area of Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and southern parts of West Africa.

Cape Clawless Otter (Google Images)

BEHAVIOUR

Cape Clawless Otters are active mostly in the early mornings and late evenings, sometimes spending the night at sea foraging. During the hottest part of the day they rest up in their holts. These are usually sheltered holes under rocks, in reed beds or in dry gullies. Unlike other African Otter species the Cape Clawless Otter spends a considerable amount of time out of the water and often wanders several kilometres away from the water – particularly when searching for a new habitat. Cape Clawless Otters are very playful and agile, and are excellent swimmers. They often slide down mud banks into the water. They are mostly solitary animals but can live in neighbouring territories of family groups up to 5 individuals. They have a strong sense of smell and use their scent to mark their territory.

DIET:

Cape Clawless Otters mostly eat fish and freshwater or marine crabs, but will also eat frogs, reptiles, and sometimes ducks, and the eggs of ground nesting birds. They even eat mussels (and smash them open on the rocks!). Mostly they search for their prey in clear water, but they also use their fingers (which are very dexterous and sensitive like humans) to feel and search for prey.

Interesting fact: they can be left handed or right handed!!!

FAMILY:

After mating, the female gives birth to litters of 2-3 young (gestation approx 2 months). The young otters are blind at birth and only venture out the den when they are about 1 month old and are weaned after about 2 months. They are raised solely by the females and reach maturity when they turn a year old.

Taken with camera trap by Nicola Okes and members of the Zandvlei Trust

CAPE PENINSULA OTTER WATCH: Share your otter sightings!

A research project has recently been initiated in the Cape Peninsula to understand the movements of one of our more elusive creatures – the Cape Clawless Otter – and is calling on residents to speak up on news of sightings.

Otter print by Nicola Okes

Residents in the peninsula are occasionally treated with early morning or late evening glimpses of these sleek, clawless creatures as they return from foraging trips. However, as otters are active mostly at dawn and dusk, one is more likely to see their prints or scat rather than the animal itself. Their prints are easily recognised as their lack of claws give the prints a distinct fingerlike impression. Their scat consists mainly of red and orange crab, which makes it easily identifiable.

Otter scat by Nicola Oakes

The research project aims to understand the spatial ecology of otters living in the Peninsula and to gain insight into how they are coping with the pollution loads in the urban rivers. Ultimately, by understanding the needs of an aquatic top predator, the project hopes to provide management recommendations for the conservation and sustainable use of the Peninsula’s rivers and wetlands, which in turn will benefit all species dependent on these systems for their survival.

As part of the project, an aim is to create a longer term monitoring programme – the Peninsula Otter Watch – where residents can report sightings of otters and their activities. Through continuous monitoring of signs of otters scat and prints, conservationists will be able to detect any changes to the population and their distribution and identify any threats. Knowledge of otter movements, presence, absence and threats will better equip conservationists to ensure the health of the Peninsula otter population and their wetland habitat.

More otter prints by Nicola Okes

Otter Sightings! A Peninsula Otter Watch is currently being set up to coordinate sightings and monitoring the presence, injuries and deaths of otters in the Cape Peninsula. Please contact Nicola Okes with details of any otter sightings: location, time, unusual behaviour or markings/injuries, what the otter was doing, and any other information you may have.

Photographs and GPS positions of sightings are most welcome.

Contact Nicola Okes at nicolaokes@gmail.com or on 082 961 9082.

For more information on other lesser known animals on the Cape Point Route:

Cape Point Route can book your accommodation, activities or tours in the Cape Peninsula or contact us for ideas of what to do when visiting. Call 021 782 9356 or visit our website: www.capepointroute.co.za for more information.

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