African Clawless Otter {Aonyx capensis}

Named after their clawless feet, this otter is also known as the Cape Clawless Otter

South Africa WildlifeAfrican Clawless Otter {Aonyx capensis}

Named after their clawless feet, this otter is also known as the Cape Clawless Otter. It is a robust, strong animal; the second-largest freshwater otter species in Africa and the third-largest in the world.

Its feet are webbed to enable the best swimming conditions. The back feet are clearly webbed, while the webbing in the front feet is far less noticeable. Although they are freshwater animals, the African Clawless Otter may live in a marine environment if there is fresh drinking water nearby.

Their dark-brown coats are thick and shiny, with white markings on the sides of the face, throat, belly and lower ears, as well as on the upper lips. Their hair is designed to keep them warm and dry, with two layers of very different hair structures to keep the water out. They use their long whiskers to find prey, even in very murky conditions.

Interestingly this otter species has dexterous fingers and opposable thumbs to handle its prey deftly. Their teeth are also adapted to crush through the tough shells of crustaceans

Quick Facts


Both male and female otters measure about 130 cm in length, including their tails (which are between 465 and 515 mm long).


The Cape Clawless Otter weighs between 10 and 21 kg, with the male being slightly larger than the female.


The African Clawless Otter is primarily aquatic, and is found near water bodies that are permanent to the region. Their habitat comprises savannah and lowland forests, while the water they prefer is shallow (about 150 cm deep) with thick reed beds. These areas are home to the prey favoured by the otter; namely crustaceans and fish.

When they do go onto dry land, they usually conceal themselves under rocks or vegetation, or in burrows.


The natural distribution of the Cape Clawless Otter ranges through most of Africa south of the Sahara. In fact, it has the most extensive distribution of any otter on the continent. However, it is not found in the rainforests of the Congo Basin.

Diet - Carnivore

The African Clawless Otter hunts day and night and, while it does favour an aquatic environment, it eats prey from both the land and water. Common menu items include crabs, fish, rodents, amphibians and even birds.


Although they are, generally, solitary animals, the African Clawless Otters can sometimes be found in clans of between four and six individuals. These usually comprise two to three adults, with their young. They form these groups for foraging purposes.

They are playful and energetic, often swimming, playing with their food and play-fighting for fun. They are also frequently seen basking in the warmth of the sun.

They communicate by means of a series of complex whistles, moans, mews and grunts as well as through the scent created by their anal glands.


There is not much on record about the mating habits of the African Clawless Otter. Breeding occurs during the dry season, and the litter consists of between two and three cubs, on average. However, otters in captivity tend to produce larger litters. Cubs leave the den at between 16 and 30 days, and are weaned at between 45 and 60 days. Sexual maturity and independence is reached at around one year of age.


The African Otter has a gestation period of about 63 days, or nine weeks.

Life Expectancy

This species of otter is known to live for about 15 years in captivity and for between 10 and 12 years n the wild.


Apart from human threats, the only predators with which this otter needs to battle within their aquatic environment are Nile Crocodiles and Fish Eagles. On land, of course, they are more vulnerable to predators.


Kruger Park; ADW


African Clawless Otter
Conservation Status

  • Least Concern

South Africa's Big Five

Did you know?

In some areas of its large range, the African Clawless Otter is killed for its sleek fur and for other body parts that are used in traditional medicines.

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