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Otter-like animals have inhabited the earth for the last 30 million years and over the years have undergone subtle changes to the carnivore bodies to exploit the rich aquatic environment.

Otters are members of the Mustelid family which includes badgers, polecats, martens, weasels, stoats and mink.

You can find out more about each of the 13 species below and check out their current conservation status in the Red Data List.

You can find out more about each species in “Otters of the World” available at the Ottershop.

World of Otters

Our interactive map of otter locations around the world.

Congo Clawless Otter (Aonyx congicus)

SIZE 1.3 to 1.5m
WEIGHT Up to 20kg
DIET Earthworms, frogs, freshwater crabs, mud dwelling fish.
OFFSPRING Number of cubs born is unknown
PHYSICAL FEATURES Closely related to African Clawless Otter and very similar. Silver tips to the end of hairs on the neck and head and dark patches of fur between the eyes and nostrils. Least adapted of all otters to aquatic way of life and has short fur providing less insulation. The back feet are only partly webbed and the front have no webbing at all.
SPECIAL ABILITIES Very dextrous, using digits on front paws like fingers to extract snails from their shell
DISTRIBUTION Found in central equatorial Africa in the Congo Basin but very patchy distribution.
HABITAT It lives exclusively in marshes and shallow margins of lakes and is the most terrestrial species of otter.
Listed under African Clawless Otter
THREATS TO THE SPECIES One of the least known otter species. Hunted for bush meat and skins, habitat loss and degradation, reduced fish stocks because of overfishing, pollution. Because they are very terrestrial they are more vulnerable to snares set on land.
COMMUNICATION Various vocalisations

Congo Clawless Otters, also known as swamp otters, are very large and similar in appearance to the African clawless otter. The fur is mainly dark brown above and pale on the chest, neck and extending to the lower part of the head and around the mouth. On the head and neck the hairs have silvery tips and there is a distinct black patch between the eyes and nostrils.

Photo: Kamiya, one of the cubs cared for at Kikongo, © Glen and Rita Chapman

The hind feet are only partially webbed and the front feet are both hairless and clawless, although they do have small claws when the otters are very young.

Photo: © Glen and Rita Chapman

It has been found that these otters eat a lot of worms, some as long as spaghetti, which they catch by digging in the mud with their clawless feet and pulling them out. They also eat crabs, frogs, mud-dwelling fish, tadpoles and even snails and they use their “fingers” to reach into the snail shell to get the food.

Photo: Eating snails © Glen and Rita Chapman

Little is known about the ecology and biology of these otters but a lot has been learnt about their behaviour through the care and rearing of orphaned cubs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These cubs have also acted as ambassadors encouraging otter conservation.

In the wild they are thought to be mostly nocturnal and largely solitary, although mothers and cubs have been seen in the daytime in the swamps and rivers of the Congo Basin. It would appear that they reach sexual maturity at about two years old and usually the female will have only one or two cubs.

The distribution of Congo clawless otters is very patchy but they are found in the Congo River basin (Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea) and also Burundi, southwest Uganda and Rwanda. They have been reported in Angola, southeast Nigeria and Zambia but information is scarce. They particularly like lowland swamp forests but are also found in rivers and streams in rainforests.

Distribution of the Congo Clawless Otter (Aonyx congicus)

Data based on Otters of the World (IOSF 2017) which is available at the Otter shop.

More information on the African Otters Group

Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra)
African Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis)
Spotted Necked Otter (Hydrictis maculicollis formerly Lutra maculicollis)