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Secret World of Cape Clawless Otters

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The Cape clawless otter, also known as the African clawless otter, is one of 13 otter species in the world. The name otter is derived from the Old English word otor or oter. In Southern Africa there are two species of otter, the Cape clawless otter and the spotted-neck otter. In this article we will delve into the secret world of Cape clawless otters, the only otter species that can be found at Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa's Eastern Cape.

Our featured photograph was taken by guest Jörg Methner and shows a beautiful Cape clawless otter which Jörg was lucky enough to see while on safari at Kariega Game Reserve.

Cape clawless otters tend to be very skittish around humans and hide in reeds or undergrowth until the perceived danger has passed. However, if you sit quietly with your Kariega safari guide next to a water source where otters are known to live you may be fortunate to get a glimpse of one.

The Cape clawless otter species mostly lives in fresh water but can also be found in the ocean. These otters have a certain stretch of water they use for feeding, playing and raising young. If this dries up or the food sources diminish, they will move off to find another home.

African clawless otters feed mostly on fish, crabs, fresh water mussels and other protein snacks they can find in or close to their watery homes. They have also been seen eating snakes, birds, frogs and insects.

Interesting Facts About Cape Clawless Otters

  • Otters are semi-aquatic, which means they live both in and out of water. They don't usually wander too far from the safety of their watery homes.
  • Cape clawless otters have long, slender bodies and short limbs, both are perfect adaptions for swimming.
  • The Cape clawless otter has powerful webbed feet, sharp teeth and a long muscular tail which help them to be successful underwater hunters.
  • The Cape clawless otter lacks claws, except for on three digits on its hind feet, giving it the "clawless" part of its name.
  • Otters are very territorial and mark their areas with their anal glands in a very similar way to other territorial animals, such as hyenas and badgers.
  • A baby otter is called a whelp or a pup and are the sweetest balls of fluff.
  • Otters have the ability to hold their breath for up to eight minutes which helps when they have to feel their way to find their prey underwater.
  • Otters have very soft, insulated under fur to keep them dry, warm and buoyant in the water.

Cape Clawless Otter Breeding

Cape Clawless Otter Family

If you are fortunate enough to see a group of otters, also called a romp, a lodge or a family, this will mostly likely be a mother with her young. Otters are usually solitary animals and only seek company when they need to mate. After mating the male and female will split up. The gestation period for Cape clawless otters is between 45 and 60 days. The female will care for the pups on her own for about a year until they are fully mature. The young otters will then move out of their mother's territory and fend for themselves. They will need to find their own section of water to call home.

Share Your Cape Clawless Otter Experiences

Were you lucky enough to share the secret world of a Cape clawless otter during your safari at Kariega Game Reserve? Did you see any other rare birds and animals along the beautiful Bushmans or Kariega river systems that run through the reserve? If so, please share your photos, videos and stories with us via our online communities on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We also encourage you to subscribe to our blog so that you can receive updates via email.

If you would like to find out more about a South African malaria-free safari at Kariega Game Reserve please contact us directly via our online form or email us on We offer accommodation in five safari lodges to suit a range of budgets. The reserve is located at the end of the popular Garden Route and a short flight 80 minute flight from Cape Town. We look forward to welcoming you and perhaps you will see a Cape clawless otter, along with the Big 5 and many other incredible wildlife.

Photos thanks to guests Jörg Methner and Christian Boix.