African Clawless Otter: Habitat, Population & Lifespan

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

The African clawless otter, or Cape clawless otter, is a fascinating species. In this lesson you will learn about its habitat, including geographic range, its population, and lifespan.

The African Clawless Otter: An Overview

When you think about Africa, what animals first come to mind? Maybe you thought of zebras and giraffes, but what about otters? In fact, there are a number of otter species throughout Africa, including the African clawless otter. The scientific name for this species is Aonyx capensis, and it is also called the Cape clawless otter.

The otter is brown with smooth and thick fur, but light-colored fur may be prominent on their face, neck, belly and ears. Despite its name, this species is not completely clawless. It does have small claws on its back feet, which are webbed and used to groom itself. In addition, they have dexterous hands which are used to search for food, grab prey and turn over rocks. Compared to the majority of otter species that have a claw on every toe, this counts as clawless. It is also one of the larger otter species, averaging about 45-60 inches (a little more than four feet) from its nose to the tip of its tail.

The African clawless otter is one of the largest otter species
African clawless otter


As you might expect, the African clawless otter lives in Africa. In fact, it can be found in nearly every country across the African continent, including Southern, Eastern, and Western countries. The only area where it is not found is in the Congo basin, which is in Central Africa. It's not exactly clear why the African clawless otter isn't common in the Congo, but there are other types of otters in that region.

This species is semi-aquatic, meaning it splits its time between water and land. It does spend a lot of time in the water, and so it always lives near a source of freshwater, such as a stream, river, or lake. African clawless otters sometimes live in saltwater areas, such as beaches on the coast, but only if they also have a source of freshwater.

Other than the water requirement, this otter can be found in a range of different habitat types. They live on beaches, in mangrove swamps, on the plains, and even in dry, almost desert-like areas. Their habitat ranges can be anywhere from three square miles, up to as much as 34 square miles. However, they usually stay within a much smaller section of this. They don't range evenly throughout their territory.

The African clawless otter lives in dens, or cave-like shelters. Sometimes the otter builds these by digging up to nine feet underground, below the water level. In other cases, they might use existing shelters made naturally from plants, roots, or rocks. The dens are typically close to freshwater or not far from a shore.

African clawless otters can be found in most African countries, except around the Congo basin
Map of Africa

Population and Lifespan

Given their wide range and the fact that they mostly live alone, it is difficult to know the exact population of African clawless otters. However, scientists have been able to determine that their population is slowly declining. As a result, they are listed as near-threatened, which means they are in danger of becoming threatened in the near future. It is a similar status to 'vulnerable'.

Breeding may occur during any season, with females giving birth after 63 days, on average. Otter litters may range from 1-5 pups. Interestingly, the offspring are considered mature after about 1 year.

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