Clawless Otter

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Aonyx capensis

  • SWAHILI NAME: Fisimaji kijivu

African clawless otters are acrobatic, clever, curious animals, perfectly adapted to their aquatic environment. When swimming, their short, dense fur insulates their bodies, their webbed back feet give them power, and their robust tails act as rudders. These otters have extremely playful personalities, especially after they have eaten.

Clawless Otter

Clawless Otter



Daily Rhythm




Life span

In captivity: 14 years

Conservation Status

Lower risk


Male: 22 to 40 lb (10 to 18 kg)
Female: 22 to 30 lb (10.0 to 13.8 kg)


Male: 44 to 54 in (111.8 to 137.2 cm) long, excluding tail
Female: 45 to 52 in (114.3 to 132.1 cm) long, excluding tail

Clawless Otter

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Front feet clawless; shading on front track indicates size of track if whole foot showed.
Scat: Cylindrical; contain bits of crab carapaces

Clawless Otter tracks

Trivia Question

What adaptation helps clawless otters catch aquatic prey?


Clawless otter fingers and toes are adapted to hold onto crabs and fish. Their forelimbs are adapted for grasping and feeling, and their teeth are adapted for crushing crab shells.

Social Structure

Although they occasionally range in pairs or small family groups, African clawless otters generally lead solitary lives. Females occupy territorial home ranges, whereas males have home ranges that overlap with those of other males and females. In freshwater, territory size ranges from 3 to 34 miles (4.9 to 54.1 km) along a water source.


African clawless otters communicate with squeaks. They also growl, whine, chirp, and hiss. When alarmed, they produce a quick hah sound, then disappear beneath the water.


Daily behavior depends on whether these otters live in freshwater or close to saltwater. In marine environments, African clawless otters are most active in the evening; in freshwater, activity centers around dawn and dusk. During the day, they rest in dry places, such as under rocks, in erosion gullies, in dense vegetation, or in burrows. African clawless otters spend a good deal of time playing with each other and with inanimate objects.


Human population growth and the increasing pollution of water sources from agricultural runoff are the biggest threats to African clawless otter populations. They are hunted for their pelts and persecuted as thieves by farmers and in fishing areas, where they can become caught in nets and traps.

Range & Habitat

The African clawless otter lives throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa except the Congo Basin, which is dominated by the Congo clawless otter.

Although African clawless otters will occupy habitat near saltwater, they need access to freshwater and live primarily along tributaries of major rivers or in seasonal rivers in arid and semiarid areas. Their habitats must have boulders as well as reed beds, mangroves, or some other terrestrial cover.


Crabs, crabs, crabs! African clawless otters love crabs, but they will settle for fish, frogs, insects, and sometimes birds and small mammals if crabs aren’t abundant. In marine habitats, they will eat more fish than crabs, and supplement that diet with octopus and lobster. African clawless otters forage independently and use their front feet to grab prey. Their teeth are adapted for crushing the shells of crabs. In shallow areas, they walk across the bottom and search under rocks for prey; in deeper water they must dive down to capture it. Once successful, they either tread water while eating or return to the shallows with their prey.


Litters of one to three cubs are born throughout the year after a gestation of 60 to 64 days. The cubs stay hidden until their eyes open, which happens when they are about four weeks old. They soon follow their mother beyond the den. At eight weeks, they are weaned.

Friends & Foes

There is very little information about natural enemies and diseases afflicting wild populations of African clawless otters. However, pythons, Nile crocodiles, and fish eagles are likely predators.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

The African clawless otter is the most abundant otter species in Africa. In 29 of the 35 countries where these otters are present, their populations are stable. The number of crabs in an area determines how many otters live there. South Africa, which has an abundant crab population, is home to an estimated 21,500 African clawless otters.

Did you know?

Clawless otters have a larger body-to-brain ratio than any other carnivore in southern Africa, which may account for their dexterity and cleverness.