Cape Clawless Otter


Common Name: Cape Clawless Otter

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Mustelidae

Genus: Aonyx

Species: Aonyx capensis

photo M Noonan




The Cape Clawless Otter's scientific name is Aonyx capensis.  The generic name, aonyx, which means "not-clawed", refers to this otter species' clawless forelimbs.  The specific name, capensis, means "belonging to the Cape Province area of South Africa", which is its primary range, though it lives throughout southern and central Africa.  The Cape Clawless Otter is a member of the weasel family, Mustelidae, in the Mammalian Order of Carnivora.  Other mustelids include ferrets and mink. 

Generally colored brown with white underbellies, cape clawless otters lack claws on all digits, with exception of the third and fourth digits of the hindlimbs.  Adults range in length from 4-5 in length, weighing 30-70lbs.


This species range extends across the African continent, from Senegal to Ethiopia and south to South Africa.  A variety of habitats are preferred, ranging from semi-arid, open plains to rainforests.  Their front paws are completely clawless with minimal webbing, giving them an appearance very similar to human hands.  They use their incredibly dexterous paws to grab prey such as mollusks and crustaceans and they may even catch and eat an octopus from time to time. 

photo M Noonan


The cape clawless otter forms loose social groups with territories that overlap those of their relatives.  Where these home ranges overlap, the otters will forage together relatively peacefully, with skirmishes generally breaking out only between males competing for mates.  The females may breed at any time during the year.  They give birth to two young after a gestation of 63 days, proceeding to raise their young alone.  These otters are nocturnal, but occasionally spotted during the day.


Like most other otter species, the cape clawless otter was once hunted for its fur.  However, this species is mainly threatened by deforestation, occurring throughout Africa.  Habitat loss has resulted in the decline of cape clawless otter sightings, which warrants this animal as rare.


Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.