Recently I was on a beach between Glencairn and Simons Town. It was one of those autumn days that really defines the season on the Cape Point Peninsula, periods of warm sunshine interspersed with sharp, heavy rain showers.
I was mooching along the sand, just above the tide line, looking at a set of dog prints when they intersected a second set. At this point I noticed that there was something different about the ones that I had being following.
Now, I am not an expert on the wildlife of the Cape Point Peninsula, by any stretch of the imagination. Nor am I ever going to get a job as a tracker, but I do now a dog and a cat print, and I now realized that the prints belonged to neither.
They were too big and the wrong shape to be cat prints, and there was something vital missing from each one if they were dog prints. No claws! A dog cannot retract its claws and so there is a distinctive line in front of each toe.
When I realized this it occurred to me that they were also the wrong shape, slightly too long. Could these be the paw prints of the elusive Cape Clawless Otter?
It certainly seemed possible.
Some lucky people see these animals, and I now that there is a pair at the lower part of the Silver Mine Wetlands in Fish Hoek. I cannot put myself in that exclusive and fortunate band of Cape Point residents, nor have I ever seen many of the other nocturnal wildlife of the Peninsula, however, the sign they leave behind always fills me with the optimism that one day I will. Porcupine quills by False Bay Hospital, a Cape Grysbok carcase in the Sun Bird Valley nature reserve and the remains of Cape Clawless Otter meals in the Silver Mine Wetlands, as well as various types of smellier signs; but no live sightings.
Well I intend to put that right by having myself a Cape Point Peninsula Cape Clawless Otter Safari!
This should be a good time of year to do this. If I can find a morning where it isn’t throwing down with rain I can still be out in the dark, without having to get up at four in the morning.
My Quarry- The Cape Clawless Otter
The otters of Cape Point are African Clawless Otters, which are know locally as Cape Clawless Otters. They are found throughout sub Saharan Africa, anywhere that there are sizable bodies of fresh water, though the Cape Point variety are equally at home on coastal planes, and happily forage for food along beaches and amongst rocks, being especial keen on shell fish and crabs.
Cape Clawless Otters are chestnut brown in colour and they have a distinctive white face and chest. Their slender bodies can reach up to 1.6m in length and they can weigh up to 35kg, though they are typically between 12 and 21kg (which is still the size of a medium dog breed).
For such a large animal they are remarkably elusive. Coupled with a low density of population (not helped in the Cape Point Peninsula by the invasion of humans into their habitat) spotting one is not easy.
Like most of the animals of the Cape Point Peninsula the Cape Clawless Otter is having to learn to live with us, and unlike other species, seems to be doing so without too many problems. They are under pressure because of a reduction in habitat. However, unlike other parts of Africa, the water systems of the Cape Point Peninsula are relatively healthy. This is in huge part because of the topography of the Cape Point Peninsula, with high mountains dropping straight into the sea, there just isn’t the opportunity for too much pollution to enter the upper parts of the river systems (with the exception of the lake systems at Muizenburg and Lakeside).
There is even direct evidence that the Cape Clawless otter fully exploits mans presence on the Cape Point Peninsula. It is a well known local fact that the pair of otters that frequent the Silver Mine Wetlands live on the Mountside above Clovelly and get to the river using a storm water drain under the road.
Planning My Cape Clawless Otter Safari
Maybe safari is too grand a word for it, but why should the Cape Point Peninsula miss out on all the animal spotting fun- and I am sure that the word does not depend on a topless land rover for its definition.
First, I am going to have to be up early. The Cape Clawless Otter is mainly nocturnal, so the last oportunity to see them will be before sunrise, at the latest, dawn. At this time of year that is not so bad, although it is cold at that time even for a hardy expat like my self, brought up as I was on snow and ice.
Second- location. Although I saw sign of Cape Clawless Otter on a beach just past Glencairn this is a bit of a trek for first thing in the morning. It makes more sense for me to try my luck with the pair at the Silver Mine wetlands in Fish Hoek, though this is a larger area with more cover, I am pretty confident that I can narrow the search down. I have seen evidence of the Cape Clawless Otter in the Wetlands, in the form of shellfish shells etc. They also use a culvert that runs on the north end of the wetlands, narrowing the search down to that side of the river.
If I have no luck on that side I can always try one of the other areas of the Cape Point Peninsula where the otters can be found, such as the beach at Glencairn.
Cape Clawless Otters- Safari part 2
As soon as the latest weather system has cleared the Cape Point Peninsula I will drag myself out of bed and set out on the hunt for the , and of course will publish details here.
Cape Clawless Otter
, and of course will publish details here.