Can you guess which animal this skeleton comes from? Is it a dog? A cat? A buck? A porcupine?
Answer: This skeleton is that of a Cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis).
Cape clawless otters live around freshwater bodies and along the coast, especially the intertidal zone.
They have soft, dark-brown fur and white chins and chests. Their front paws are finger-like but lack claws which is why they are called clawless otters. They feed on crabs, fish, frogs, octopus, squid, small mammals, birds and insects. Otters that live east of Cape Hangklip (near Pringle Bay) feed mainly on rock lobsters.
Wildlife photographer Liz Hardman was commissioned to take photographs to help shed light on the environmental impacts affecting the Cape clawless otter's range in the coastal section of Murdock Valley, Simon’s Town. Threats to established holts (the den of an otter) include human encroachment, free roaming dogs, removal of coastal shrubs and limiting access to fresh water springs.
The skeleton you see here is from an otter which was sadly killed by a car near Kommetjie. Our Curator found it and brought it to the Aquarium. The body was sent to Lachlan Matthews, an artist who works with animal skeletons. He cleaned and carefully pieced all the bones back together again like a jigsaw puzzle.
We are displaying the skeleton to raise awareness about the plight of these animals which live around our city.
Otters, like many other animals, are losing their natural habitat as humans need more space for urban and agricultural development. Besides buildings and roads, pollution also impacts on the lives of animals in many ways. We share our city with wild animals – you can help by looking out for them on the roads and driving slowly, by using environmentally-friendly products in your home and by putting your litter in the bin.
Speaking of otters
Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, USA has been blogging about a sea otter that gave birth. While not the same species as the Cape clawless otter, this video is too cute not to share.