Aonyx capensis (African clawless otter, Cape clawless otter)

graototter [Afrikaans]; Kap-Fingeratter [German]; loutre a joues blanches [French]; fisi maji kubwa [Swahili]; intini [isiNdebele] [isiXhosa]; intini, umthini [isiZulu]; qibi, thene [Sesotho]; lenyebi, lenyibi, nyebi, konyana yanoka [Setswana]; mbiti [Shona]; ntsini [siSwati]; nivho, tshiphu [Tshivenda]; mbao [Lozi]; utungwa [Yei]; || Gam  |hareseb, || Gamharebab [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Mustelidae > Subfamily: Lutrinae

Aonyx capensis (African clawless otter, Cape clawless otter) African clawless otter. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Aonyx capensis (African clawless otter, Cape clawless otter), Kavango region, Namibia. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

African clawless otter. [photo Callie de Wet ]


The otter’s body is elongated, sinuous and agile designed for active swimming. The dark-brown coat, consists of densely packed underfur and long guard hairs, and traps a layer of insulating air underwater. The lips, chin and throat are white. The long tail is heavy at the base tapering towards the tip. The limbs are short and stout. The forepaws are not webbed and the fingers are strong and dexterous for probing. The hindfeet have a small web and the middle two toes have short claws to assist with grooming. There are stiff whiskers (vibrissae) around the nose and muzzle. These tactile hairs are very sensitive and aid in locating prey.


Total Body Length: 110 – 160 cm; weight range 10 - 18 kg.

Dental Formula

 I C P M = 36

Distribution and habitat

Not found in the dry interior areas of the southern African subregion, as it generally prefers rivers, marshes, dams, lakes, estuaries and the intertidal zone.

General behavior

Otters are active during the early morning and the late afternoon, although they may hunt at anytime. They occur singly, in pairs or small family groups.


The clawless otter depend on their acute sense of touch, when searching for prey such as crabs under stones and in crevices. Although it normally hunts by sight, the well developed sense of touch allows it to find prey in water with poor visibility. They crush and eat the entire crab, and a latrine area of droppings consisting of crab shells is indicative of their presence. The broad molars are adapted to grinding the tough crustacean carapaces. Their diet includes freshwater crabs, fish and frogs. Also eats mollusks, small mammals, birds and insects.


Females have 2-3 cubs per litter, after a gestation period of 60-65 days, and are devoted mothers. There is an extended period of dependency during which the young are taught how to find and secure prey.

Life span

20 years


Otter are threatened by loss of habitat, as increasing urban development encroaches on wetlands and coastal areas. They are shy and secretive animals and do not tolerate the close proximity of humans. An increasing number are being killed at night while crossing roads.

Text by Denise Hamerton

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