The festive season was a busy time, even for the otters around the Cape! For the second year running, residents have been reporting otter pups out and about from November – February. Most of these sightings have been confirmed by camera traps, or from photos taken by residents themselves. As the gestation period for otters is approximately two months, this means the otters are breeding in late August and the early months of Spring. Pups are born blind and leave the holt only at approximately 4 weeks, and are reliant on their mothers for most of their first year. Thank you to residents in Simonstown, who provided these rare photos of otter pups in the Peninsula, November 2012:
In my never ending search for otters, I am lucky enough to spend most of my days scouring beaches, rivers and mountains for any evidence of their existence. So yesterday I took advantage of Cape Town’s sunny winters day by hiking Table Mountain and exploring Millers Point for a while: changing cameras, collecting data and soaking in the beautiful views.
As otters do not have an insulating layer of subcutaneous fat, they rely on their fur to regulate their temperature. They therefore spend a lot of time grooming, rinsing and cleaning their fur – quite endearing behaviour! Here are a few photos of otters caught on camera trap, rolling and playing before disappearing into their holt.
Over the last three weeks in my attempt to survey the Peninsula for any and all signs of otter activity, I have had the great pleasure to be out and about hiking Table Mountain and surrounding areas in the heart of winter. Despite being completely soaked most days due to rain, hail and wind I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the Peninsula a bit more by getting lost in the mist, meeting porcupines in the vlei, falling into icy rivers, discovering chameleons and being chased through a golf course. Looking forward to what next weeks field days hold!
Last week, an injured Cape Clawless Otter was found in Lakeside, not far from the Westlake Pond where our camera traps have been monitoring what appears to be a healthy family with 2 or 3 eight month old pups.
The otter had been seen limping over the main road, up towards the mountain and into a residents garden who then called me to find out what to do. The SPCA Wildife Unit was contacted and they took the otter to their new short term care facility to have its injuries assessed. It appeared to be a male sub-adult (approx 8 months – 1 year) and vets determined that it had a badly broken leg. As the bone was completely broken in two, and too severe to mend, the decision was made to euthanase.
Although no one knows how the otter broke its leg, it is possible that it was hit by a car. Since December 2010, six otters have died from car accidents or related injuries, and this number appears to be increasing. Their crepuscular lifestyle and dispersing behaviour put them at risk in an urban environment. Over the last 20 years, records from Iziko Museum show that of the 42 otters in their collection, 15 of these were found dead from car accidents or related injuries (35%). Of the 15 otters known to have been killed on our roads in the last 20 years, most were adults (6 females, only one of which was a sub-adult; 9 males, one was a juvenile, 3 sub-adults and the rest were adults). SOURCE: Iziko Museum, South Africa Museums.
Photographing otters can be a time-consuming, tricky business. Their secretive nature and crepuscular lifestyle generally makes them difficult to spot, let alone capture on film. However, some people have been fortunate enough (through hours of dedication and/or a splash of luck) to photograph otters in their natural habitat. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be posting some of these photos to showcase these charismatic mammals in both marine and freshwater habitats. If anyone would like to share their photo’s on the blog, please contact me via email, and I would be very happy to share them (all photography credited to the photographer of course). First up, is a photo from Liam Cornell who caught this curious otter on camera as it emerged from the sea at Pringle Bay. Enjoy!
Over the past few months, many residents from the Marina da Gama area have reported sighting of otters in and about the Marina. Pups have been sighted, adults otters feeding on crabs and fish and even reports of otters teasing the dogs. One resident, Gerald Gooderham, remembered that about three years ago, he was lucky enough to be visited by an otter one morning and managed to get some great photos which he has allowed me to share here. Thank you for the great photos!
A recent visit to Cape Point one morning revealed a flurry of activity on both sides of the Park. The Buffels Bay otters left many signs, tracks and scat indicating they had been foraging early morning making the most of the low tide. Similarly, fresh tracks found on the beach indicated that at least 5 of the Olifantsbos otters had returned from an early morning foraging trip. I was lucky enough to arrive in time to see what appeared to be a lone male charging down the beach and swimming out to sea:
I recently provided some information to Scenic South updating residents on what has been happening with regards to my otter research. See the link here: http://www.scenicsouth.co.za/2012/03/cape-clawless-otter-researcher-calls-for-otter-spotters-in-south-peninsula/
As explained in the update, last year, Scenic South presented the beginnings of the Otter Project in the Cape Peninsula: a project initiated by the University of Cape Town’s Zoology Department in response to the need to understand how these charismatic aquatic mammals are coping with declining water quality in an urban environment. The Peninsula Otter Watch was developed as a tool to collect information on where otters are living in the Cape, and the following brief summary highlights what information is available so far from Peninsula residents.
Approximately 30 recorded sightings over the last 5 months highlights the fact that these animals are mostly secretive and active mostly at night. Particular individuals tend to be seen regularly along specific stretches of coastal habitat, or near their holts in certain wetland areas. However, spoor and scat is a more common sighting than the otters themselves. The good news is that recently otters in two of the Peninsula wetlands have had pups; otters seem to have returned to Hout Bay for the summer; and otters have been spotted in the Liesbeek River. The sad news unfortunately is that otters are at risk to being killed on roads. In the last 6 months, otters have been killed on both Liesbeek Parkway and Kommetjie Road, highlighting the danger otters face when on the move and therefore the need to understand the spatial ecology of these animals. Pollution events including the recent sewage spill in Clovelly wetlands also pose a risk to otters. Pollution and subsequent contamination of the food web has been known to cause population declines in Europe and the United States in the past, but is not well understood in South Africa. Over the next few years, the otter project aims to understand both the spatial ecology and pollution burdens of otters in polluted (urban) and relatively non-polluted (natural) river systems in the Cape Peninsula.
As field work begins, information and news on otter sightings are needed more than ever! Please contact me with details of sightings (signs of otters, spoor, scat – all useful)!
A young otter was found stranded on Strand beach last month by local residents and handed in at a nearby pet store. The SPCA was then called in to attempt to revive the youngster who was very malnourished and dehydrated. However, the young male was too weak and despite the dedicated efforts of the SPCA team, the otter died a few days later. Otters are born blind, emerge from their holt (den) at about 1-2 months old, and will stay with their mothers for a year. In this situation the otter must have been separated from its mother and could not survive on its own.