Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus)

Also known as: Cameroon clawless otter, clawless otter, small-toothed clawless otter, swamp otter, Zaire clawless otter
Synonyms: Aonyx capensis congicus
French: Loutre À Joues Blanches Du Cameroun, Loutre À Joues Blanches Du Congo, Paraonyx Tacheté
Spanish: Nutria Inerme De Camerún
GenusAonyx (1)
SizeAverage weight: 20 kg (2)
Average head-body length: 150 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

With its long, sinuous body set on short-limbs, tapering tail and unwebbed feet, the Congo clawless otter is very similar in appearance to the Cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis). Indeed, the Congo clawless otter is sometimes treated as a subspecies of its more widely recognised congener (1) (2). As the common name suggests, the front toes are clawless, while only the three middle toes of the hind feet bare small vestigial claws (2) (3). The dorsal pelage is dark-brown with silvery tips on the head and shoulders giving an almost frosted appearance, while the fur on the underside of the body and on the sides of the face, throat and neck are a lighter cream colour (2) (4). Although larger than the other clawless otters, the Congo clawless otter has a slenderer neck and head, and smaller teeth (2) (3) (5).

The Congo clawless otter is restricted to the Congo basin in Central Africa, and is found in Gabon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, southern Cameroon and Central African Republic, northern Angola, and probably western Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi (1) (4) (6) (7). 

Although primarily associated with lowland tropical riparian habitat, such as rainforest, rivers and swamps, the Congo clawless otter is also found in wetland areas surrounding lakes (1) (2).

The specific ecology and behaviour of the Congo clawless otter remains largely unknown, but like all clawless otter species, the Congo clawless otter is a skilled swimmer, preying on a variety of water organisms, such as fish and crabs (1) (2) (8). The structure of the teeth and digits as well as observations suggest that foraging for terrestrial prey species, such as earthworms and amphibians, may be more important for this species than other clawless otters (2) (3) (4). The Congo clawless otter is also believed to be nocturnal and solitary, resting in cavities along river banks during the day (3). A litter of one or two young is born after a gestation period thought to be around two months, and reach maturity at a year of age (4) (5).

Localised threats, such as hunting for bushmeat or body parts, which are used to provide purported magical powers and as an aphrodisiac in traditional medicines, may influence the species local persistence, especially in Congo (1) (6). In addition, deforestation and degradation threatens the species in parts of its range, while otters may be directly targeted by fisherman due to perceived competition over fish stocks (1) (3).

Owing to the dearth of species specific studies, and a lack of data regarding population numbers and trends, range continuity and habitat limitations, an accurate assessment of the species’ status is not possible (2). Consequently, a reassessment of the species status as Least Concern may be required (1). The species also occurs in several protected areas in the Central African Republic, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (1).

Find out more about the Congo clawless otter: 

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Authenticated (18/04/10) by Hélène Jacques, IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
  2. IUCN Otter Specialist Group (January, 2010)
  3. Lariviere, S. (2001) Aonyx congicus. Mammalian Species, 650: 1-3.
  4. Jacques, H., Veron, G., Alary, F and Aulagnier, S. (2009) The Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus) (Mustelidae: Lutrinae): a review of its systematics, distribution and conservation status. African Zoology, 44: 159–170.
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Mammals of the World. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  6. Jacques, H., Moutou, F. and Alary, F. (2002) On the tracks of the Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus) in Gabon. IUCN otter specialist group bulletin, 19: 34-42.
  7. Alary, F., Moutou, F. and Jacques, H. (2002) Still on the tracks of the Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus): First mission in Cameroon. IUCN otter specialist group bulletin, 19: 43-46.
  8. International Otter Survival Fund (January, 2010)