The Case of the Elusive Zambezi Otter

| Tamlin Wightman

Royal Chundu


“… that’s the beauty of encounters with the wild… Every moment is one of fortune. And fortune, we believe, favours the patient and grateful, just as much as the brave.”

 

We have been practicing what we preach, this art of patience mentioned in a recent caption on our Instagram. In particular, while trying to uncover the elusive otters of the Zambezi.

They’re not as difficult to glimpse as some of the wild animals of the world, the snow leopard for instance. But they do like to maintain an incognito status. Even among themselves…

While, in the case of the Cape Clawless Otter, they tend to live in family groups of up to five, they have their own freedom to explore their family’s territory independently. And most of them do, unless seeking a mate… solitary little mammals that they are.


royal chundu (388)


We have two kinds of otters at Royal Chundu. Along with the clawless, there is the Spotted Necked Otter (we believe it to be just the one). Rather than hide under the shade of the trees on the Zambezi, waiting to catch fish in the shallow edges of the water, our Spotted Necked Otter does his fishing in the pond at the entrance to River Lodge. He has been seen to pose atop the statues, greeting our guests while the hot sun dries his furry hide.

But when it comes to the former, the Cape Clawless, we count it a lucky month if we get to spot and, even better, photograph even one.

And then one of our guests comes and snaps one on her first day at the lodge. Murphy’s what?


Otter 2


As its name suggests, the Cape Clawless Otter’s dexterous, hand-like front paws do not have any claws, but rather long rounded fingers that enable it to tackle its prey efficiently.

Otter 3


Can you spot his whiskers? The notable features of the Cape Clawless Otter include its sleek fur coat – dark brown on top and lighter below – and white whiskers framing its face.

Otter 5


Perfect otter territory: Cape Clawless Otters like to rest on land, particularly among thick vegetation or rocks like above. They are also known to dig themselves three-metre-long underground dens which they line with grass to serve as a nest.

And then, a few days later, when we were rebuilding our self-esteem, a new guest arrived and captured another otter.

Was it the same one? Were both travellers incredibly… lucky? Or did we need to try a new method?


Otter


Know thine otter

While we are happy to maintain our patience practice, perhaps there is more to this luck thing than previously expected. We could try the time-honoured, “Think about something else and it’ll come to you.” We could turn to bad otter puns, “One way or an otter, I’m gonna getcha, getcha…”. Or, we could take a page out of Thomas Jefferson’s book:

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

Hard work means preparation and knowledge. So let us try this path… To increase our chances of detecting our slippery friend among the reeds, we need to understand him better. Starting with the basics.

Otter 101

Otters


Image: (c) tomstick.com, river otter image (c) local.brookings.k12.sd.us

Discover more about the animals you’ll meet on the Zambezi – and let us know your tricks of the trade when it comes to detecting that which does not want to be detected in the comments below…