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Helping Otters and Wetlands in Africa

There are three species of otter in sub-Sarahan Africa and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is only found in the north of the continent.

The spotted-necked otter (Hydrictis maculicollis) is fairly widely distributed in sub-Saharan countries, from Senegal to Ethiopia and down to South Africa, but their detailed distribution is not fully understood.

The African clawless otter (Aonyx capensis) has the widest distribution of all the African otters although it is mostly absent in the Congo basin.

The Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus) has a very patchy distribution in the Congo Basin and little is known about its ecology and biology.

All four species are listed in the IUCN Red List as “Near Threatened”. The sub-Saharan species were upgraded from “Least Concern” due to continuing population decline, largely because of increasing human population. There is little modern information and a lot of the data is over 25 years old.

Otters are ideal environmental indicators. They use both the terrestrial and aquatic environments and so both environments must be in pristine condition, which is essential to all species, including our own.

Otters are one of the most charismatic, medium-sized mammal species in Africa, and yet they are often overlooked and are severely under threat throughout the continent.

Funding is urgently needed to help with:


As is so often the case, the biggest threat to African otters again comes from man.

They may be hunted for fur and traditional medicine and many of these traditions have been carried out for centuries. Local “medicine men” still believe in the strength of otter products and although some only use a small piece, others will take one otter for each “patient”. Otters may be eaten as bushmeat, although some tribes regard this as taboo. These traditions are part of the culture of certain African tribes and it is difficult to change attitudes. We have to show that traditions involving the use of wildlife for medicine and improving virility are no longer acceptable. This can only be achieved by creating more awareness in communities.

However, habitat destruction is far more serious, especially as a result of the rapidly expanding human population in many areas. In Lake Victoria the human population has risen dramatically and many people are also reliant on fish, both to provide an income and as food for themselves. Otters are killed by fishermen who believe they are taking all the fish, especially where rainbow trout have been introduced, not to provide food but for sport fishing. Fishermen often complain that otters take the fish out of their nets but they are reluctant to say how many are accidentally caught in the nets and drown.

Further destruction is caused when riverside vegetation is cut down for firewood and land is cleared for farming. Large scale forest logging results in rivers becoming more turbulent and polluted and there is less prey available. Chemicals from agriculture and industry run off into the water and these can build up within the otters to potentially fatal levels.


IOSF has supported various educational projects in Africa and in 2015 we held the first ever training workshop in Tanzania with participants from 10 sub- Saharan countries. Since then, various small-scale education projects have sprung up.

TEAM OTTER is IOSF’s education programme focused on children. The programme is aimed at reconnecting children with nature, wildlife and the environment and igniting a passion that will last their whole life. A recent study found that people who have access to nature act in a more sustainable and environmental way than those who are not, or are less, exposed to it. A lack of knowledge leads to a lack of interest.

The programme uses otters as a mascot and an ambassador to a healthy environment but also teaches children about other species, wetland habitats and environmental conservation. The children can join Team Otter clubs which makes them feel part of a growing number of young people that want to make a difference. Currently there are clubs in Europe, Asia and South America and there are now plans for clubs in Africa too:


Save our Environment Trust in Zimbabwe run an environmental education programme across much the country. Not much is known about otter populations in Zimbabwe but they will start to increase awareness among local communities and especially children. They already have a number of environmental education clubs that concentrate on reducing human impact and saving wildlife but as yet this has not included otters. They will use IOSF’s education material to spread the word on otters in the area and the clubs can become affiliated to Team Otter.

Hope for Nature Uganda plan to increase education about otters around Lake Victoria and, in particular, Koome Island. Using the Senior Secondary School as their base they will educate children, teachers, local communities. and government officials about threats faced by their local otters (African clawless) and what the presence of otters means for the environment. It will also include the establishment of a Team Otter club on Koome Island.


William Mgomo of Tanzania has visited many schools in the area of the Liparamaba Reserve and also works with local fishing communities to make them aware that otters are not an enemy and that they can survive together. He has even managed to persuade some fishermen to remove lethal otter traps from beside their fish ponds. These areas are very remote and so William can only access them by motorcycle.


KISTOC (Kisumu Science Teachers Otter Club) have an education programme to increase awareness and conservation of otters on Lake Victoria. They take parties of schoolchildren on field trips so that they can see for themselves the importance of conservation and train more teachers to help with this work.

At the African workshop all the participants agreed that there is a need for more educational material for schools, which is appropriate to African communities. This can be in the form of poems, stories and artwork and will be translated and shared within the group.

Funds are needed to support these various project enabling school visits, produce more education material and KISTOC’s teacher training programme.



It is important to involve communities in any conservation work as it will only work with the support of the people. In areas where there is conflict between otters and fishermen it is vital to meet personally in order to understand the extent of the problem. By working with the community it is possible to find solutions to problems together. Information on otters and their distribution may also be obtained from the community.


Karanta Camara, who worked with IOSF for World Otter Day 2019, is going to continue his work in raising awareness of otters amongst local fishermen and communities in an area that is known to have otter populations. His focus is on raising the profile of the species and help the people to understand the importance of having otter populations nearby.

Human Nature Projects (HNP) is an Australian NGO whose aim is to connect people to work for the planet, as together we can make a difference. They have projects in many African countries and IOSF is working with them on otter education and public awareness.

HNP Benin: Dossou Donald plans to raise awareness for otters and their conservation in communities in the Oueme Valley, Benin. The area is known to have otters, particularly spotted-necked otters and it is important to help people understand why they need to be protected.

HNP Lesotho: Here the project will focus on teaching the importance of otter conservation, habitats, conservation techniques and how to raise the profile of otters. They will work with volunteers, government officials and other associated stakeholders to increase the programme, both research and education, across Lesotho.


In February 2010 a hunter, called Mundweni, killed a female Congo clawless otter and then found a tiny cub. Taking pity, he took it to Rita and Glen Chapman, missionaries in Kikongo, who had already reared many wild orphans. The Chapmans contacted IOSF for advice but almost nothing was known about this species, let alone how to rear one so young. IOSF quickly developed an email network of vets and otter specialists from all over the world who could help care for this young cub.

The otter, named Mazu, was quickly taken to the hearts of the villagers and somewhat of a celebrity. Even government ministers came from the capital, Kinshasa, to see this wonderful animal and she became a true otter ambassador. People began to care about otters and conservation in general – a major step forward.

Since then Rita and Glen have cared for many more otters with the help of their fantastic local helpers, Delphin and Sico, and together they have formed the Kikongo Otter Sanctuary.

One otter came to them from the neighbouring Republic of Congo and naturally there was a lot of bureaucracy to be overcome.

The latest otter to arrive is a tiny spotted-necked otter – a very different animal to care for than the Congo clawless otters before. But he is thriving in the great care of the Sanctuary.

The Kikongo Otter Sanctuary not only cares for the actual animals but together they are working with schools and other community groups to spread the message of the importance of otters and their conservation.

Mazu is now a national treasure of the Congo and a great ambassador for African Otter Conservation. So little was known about the Congo clawless otter and we have learnt so much about their behaviour through the work of the Kikongo Otter Sanctuary.

Funds are needed to support the Kikongo Otter Sanctuary.



Research alone is not conservation, but for any conservation programme to be successful it must be founded on recent sound scientific data obtained by trained professional researchers. Conservation programmes are far more effective when organised by local people but in Africa there are very few scientists working on otters and their habitats. Until the IOSF workshop in 2015 many people were unaware that otters even existed in Africa. Now we have people working in The Gambia, Benin, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Tanzania so the effects of the workshop have been far-reaching and are ongoing.

IOSF is now planning to work in North Africa where the Eurasian otter is found. So little is known about these populations that we are establishing a North Africa Otter Network to co-ordinate research in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.

Funds are needed to support this research.