Aonyx capensis


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Aonyx capensis
Species Authority: (Schinz, 1821)
Common Name(s):
English African Clawless Otter, Cape Clawless Otter
French Loutre À Joues Blanches
Spanish Nutria Africana, Nutria De Cuello Blanco
Taxonomic Notes: Wozencraft (2005) regarded this species as conspecific with the congeneric Congo Clawless Otter A. congicus. The two are here retained as distinct species (see van Zyll de Jong 1972, Wozencraft 1993, Nel and Somers in press).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Hoffmann, M.
Reviewer(s): Hussain, S.A. (Otter Red List Authority) and Hoffmann, M. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
Listed as Least Concern as the species is widespread, most populations are believed to be stable, and there are no major threats resulting in a range-wide population decline that would warrant listing in a threatened category.
2004 Least Concern

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The African Clawless Otter is the most widely distributed otter species in Africa, with a range stretching from Senegal and Mali throughout most of West Africa to Sudan and Ethiopia, and then southwards throughout East Africa to the Western Cape of South Africa. They are absent from the Congo basin, where they are replaced by the Congo Clawless Otter Aonyx congicus, the two species being sympatric in Uganda and Rwanda (Somers and Nel in press).
Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: African Clawless Otters are fairly common to rare, with populations thought to be stable in 29 of the 35 countries from which they have been recorded (Rowe-Rowe 1990, 1995; Nel and Somers 2002). Abundance appears to be dependent on the availability of crabs (Rowe-Rowe and Somers 1998).

Density estimates from various studies in southern Africa are summarized by Somers and Nel (in press). Based on the recovery of radioactive scats, Somers (2001) gives an estimate of 1.53 otters per km of river; assuming there are two otters per km of river, the total population in South Africa alone is estimated at around 21,500 individuals (Somers and Nel in press).
Population Trend: Stable

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: African Clawless Otters are predominantly aquatic and seldom found far from water. Freshwater is an essential habitat requirement, and they only occur in marine habitats provided there is access to fresh water. In marine habitats, rocky shores are preferred (Van Niekerk et al. 1998). Elsewhere, they are found in diverse habitats, from impoundments, estuaries, and mangroves to desert conditions of the upper Doring River in the Western Cape and the Fish River in southern Namibia (Nel and Somers 2007; Somers and Nel in press); they are also found in many seasonal or episodic rivers in the Karoo, such as the Sak, Vis, Riet and Gamka Rivers, provided suitable-sized pools persist (Nel and Somers 2007; Somers and Nel in press). They have been recorded up to 3,000 m in Ethiopia (Yalden et al. 1996). African Clawless Otters have been found in towns and cities, and can occupy rivers with high pollution and eutrophication levels (Somers and Nel in press).
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): There are no major threats to the species; however, in some parts of their range, their habitat has been either drastically changed or lost, following bush clearing, deforestation, overgrazing, siltation, draining of wetlands or water extraction or denudation of riparian vegetation (Rowe-Rowe 1995; Nel and Somers 1998).

In parts of their range, African Clawless Otters may be killed for skins and other body parts (e.g., Cunningham and Zondi 1991; De Luca and Mpunga 2005), or because they are regarded as competitors for food, particularly in rural areas where fishing is an important source of income, or where they are believed to be responsible for poultry losses (Rowe-Rowe 1995). Fisheries managers of the Kairezi River Protected Area in Zimbabwe blamed trout declines on otter predation and competition with trout for food, even though scat analysis revealed that only 1% of otter faeces contained the remains of trout and their diets overlapped only 17% (Butler 1994; Butler and Marshall 1996). Occasionally, they are accidentally caught and drowned in gill nets and fish traps (Rowe-Rowe 1990).


Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: African Clawless Otters are present in a number of protected areas across their range. The populations of Cameroon and Nigeria are listed on CITES Appendix I ( as Aonyx capensis microdon). All other populations are included in CITES Appendix II.

Bibliography [top]

Butler, J. R. A. 1994. Cape clawless otter conservation and a trout river in Zimbabwe: A case study. Oryx 28: 276-282.

Butler, J. R. A. and Marshall, B. E. 1996. Resource use within the crab-eating guild of the upper Kairezi River, Zimbabwe. Journal of Tropical Ecology 12: 475-490.

Cunningham, A.B. and Zondi, A.S. 1991. Use of animal parts for the commercial trade in traditional medicines. Institute of Natural Resources, Univeristy of Natal.

de Luca, D. W. and Mpunga, N. E. 2005. Small carnivores of the Udzungwa Mountains: presence, distribution and threats. Small Carnivore Conservation 32: 1-7.

Nel, J. A. J. and Somers, M. J. 2002. The status of otters in Africa: an assessment. In: R. Dulfer, J. Conroy, J. A. J. Nel and A. C. Gutleb (eds), Otter conservation - an example for a sustainable use of wetlands 19: 258-266. IUCN Otter Specialist Group Bulletin.

Nel, J. A. J. and Somers, M. J. 2007. Distribution and habitat choice of Cape clawless otters, Aonyx capensis, in South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 37: 61-70.

Nel, J. A. J. and Somers, M. J. In press. Genus Aonyx. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa, Academic Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Rowe-Rowe, D. T. 1990. Action plan for African otters. In: P. Foster-Turley, S. MacDonald and C. Mason (eds), Otters: an action plan for their conservation, pp. 41-51. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Rowe-Rowe, D. T. 1995. Distribution and status of African otters. Habitat 11: 8-10.

Rowe-Rowe, D. T. and Somers, M. J. 1998. Diet, foraging behaviour and coexistence of African otters and the water mongoose. In: N. Dunstone and M. Gorman (eds), Behaviour and ecology of riparian mammals. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 71, pp. 215-227. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Somers, M. J. 2001. Habitat utilization of Cape clawless otters Aonyx capensis. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Stellenbosch.

Somers, M. J. and Nel, J. A. J. In press. Aonyx capensis. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa, Adademic Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Van Niekerk, C. H., Somers, M. J. and Nel, J. A. J. 1998. Freshwater availability and distribution of Cape clawless otter spraints and resting places along the south-west coast of South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 28: 68-72.

Van Zyll de Jong, C. G. 1972. A systematic review of the Nearctic and Neotropical river otters (Genus Lutra, Mustelidae, Carnivora). Life Sciences Contributions of the Royal Ontario Museum 80: l-104.

Wozencraft, W. C. 1993. Order Carnivora. In: D. E. Wilson and D. M. Reeder (eds), Mammal Species of the World: A taxonomic and geographic reference. Second Edition., pp. 279-344. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Wozencraft, W.C. 2005. Order Carnivora. In: D.E. Wilson and D.M. Reeder (eds), Mammal Species of the World: A taxonomic and geographic reference. Third Edition, pp. 532-628. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, USA.

Yalden, D.W., Largen, M.J., Kock, D. and Hillman, J.C. 1996. Catalogue of the Mammals of Ethiopia and Eritrea 7. Revised Checklist, zoogeography and conservation. Tropical Zoology 9(1): 73-164.

Citation: Hoffmann, M. 2008. Aonyx capensis. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 19 December 2014.
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