Wherever you live in South Africa or further afield, chances are you may (if extremely lucky) have come across an otter species somewhere.
Always, however, it would definitely be in the vicinity of water. As in the Cape Peninsula area, the Cape clawless otter is also found on the ‘other side’ of False Bay in the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and all the way further up the coast.
Although the odds against spotting one randomly during the day time are great, an outing with Solid Stuff sister company, Otherside Tours will nevertheless bring you as close as you can get to their habitat and their ‘tramping grounds’.
Residents of Rooiels, Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay fairly regularly report delightful sightings. (The Cape clawless otter is known to occur widely in the entire southern African region, yet is extremely seldom seen because it is so elusive! )
Having lived at Betty’s Bay for the past 23+ years, we have been privileged to encounter otters occasionally. Always briefly! Mostly at dusk – and reportedly also at dawn. Sightings are always a massive thrill and reward. They would either pop up in the waves close to the beach, curiously checking out any possible intruders, or they are moving up or down the river course close to our home, either on their way into the sea to hunt/forage, or on their way back from spending some feeding time in the ocean.
On one or two occasions we have been lucky enough to see them frolicking on the sand en route to the water, in a family group.
They are known to be plucky and even shrewd. When they feel threatened, for example by large dogs that have spotted them in the water, they will play a game of ducking and diving to lure the dog into the water and as soon as the dog can no longer stand, will grab it by the snout and pull it under. A friend’s huge dog drowned this way close to Betty’s Bay main beach, and ours came pretty close to going the same way at Silver Sands beach one day!
Lisel, who heads up Otherside Tours shares two recent otter sightings:
I recently experienced the thrill of twice spotting Cape clawless otters in our area. Here in the heart of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. (Having lived at Betty's Bay for more than 23 years now, I have come to learn just how rare and precious this kind of privilege is.)
Once was at dusk, alongside a boardwalk down to the beach at Pringle Bay, while we were waiting for our take-out fish and calamari meal to be prepared. Unfortunately the pair spotted me too - notwithstanding my effort to pretend I was a pillar of salt - and they promptly ducked below the boardwalk after some quaint moves and curious glances in my direction.
The sneak photos I took for the purpose of proof, are unfortunately just far too grainy to share... But their white chests and distinctly shaped smooth, almost flattish heads were unmistakable in the fading light.
They were definitely on their way down to the waves on that perfect early evening, probably to find supper. I waited, but they were not that gullible and eventually I had to give up without seeing any more of them.
Then, a few days later, at a bay adjacent to Betty's Bay's main beach and also during a sunset stroll, we caught a glimpse from afar of a group of cavorting otter shapes playfully and almost clumsily making their way down to the calm waters of the bay - where they would most certainly find their favourite catches of crayfish, crabs and fish. (Sadly, they frequent the same waters as an alarmingly increasing number of poachers, for similar delicacies...)
Photos by Imar Krige