IUCN Otter Specialist Group . . . leading global otter conservation Last Update: Sunday March 29, 2015
[Home] | [Site Map] | [Contact Us]
[Home] | [Members] | [News] | [Bulletin] | [Q & A] | [Species] | [Library]

Aonyx congicus (Lönnberg, 1910), the Congo Clawless Otter

:: Aonyx congicus

Click on the images below to see more of this species

© Rita Chapman

More photos would be welcomed



A large otter, around 1.5m in length (head and body 75 to 90 cm+ tail 40 to 60 cm)  and weighing around 15 to  25 kg, and very similar in appearance to the Cape  Clawless Otter . The fingers are quite naked, unwebbed and without claws; the toes on the back feet are webbed only to the second joint, and have only vestigial claws on the three middle toes. The fur is dark brown above, with extensive frosting on the head and neck, and paler below, and there is a variable though prominant black patch surrounded by white fur between eyes and nostrils; the cheeks are white, rather than beige as in the Cape Clawless Otter. The whiskers are not prominant and there are no eyebrow tufts. The teeth are not so massive as in Cape Clawless Otters,. This species is reported to eat earthworms  which in places form an important part of the diet and crabs as in the other clawless otters, Aonyx spp. are well adapted to foraging with their fingers, and use their forepaws to catch prey rather than their mouth. Worms are located by pushing the forepaws deep into soft mud banks and feeling through the mud with the fingers, gaze averted.

English: Congo Clawless Otter
French: Loutre à joues blanches du Congo
German: Kongo-Keinkrallenotter, Kongo Weisswangenotter
Fang: Aban
Adonna: Libingui
Bakota: Ibangou
Baka: Londo
Bangando: Fima


This species is found in rivers, streams and swamps in rain forests and lowland swamp forests in the Congo Basin, and in the forests, highland swamps, papyrus swamps and wetland areas around lakes in Rwanda, Burundi and southwestern Uganda. They make use of clearings (baïs) in rainforests, on land, when hunting for earthworms.


This species occurs in the Congo Basin: Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, and DRC (ex Zaïre) are the strongholds of A. congicus. They are also found in southern Cameroon, Central African Republic, southwestern Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and northern Angola.

Conservation Status

Red List Category Near Threatened, Decreasing
Year Assessed 2014
Assessors Jacques, H.
Evaluators Hussain, S.A. (Otter Red List Authority)

There is no information available about population size or the number of mature animals. There is only fragmented, reliable information about the species' geographic range.

Current Concerns

Otters are occasionally hunted for bush meat, but have the reputation of being quite difficult to catch. They are seldom recorded in bushmeat reports (S. Lahm & A.Willox, pers. comm.; Jacques 2002b). The price is quite similar to other bushmeat. While meat is sought after in Congo and Cameroon, this is not the case in Gabon.

Moreover, in Gabon, otters are sometimes considered as a dangerous animal giving an electrical shock when caught with a spear. In Central and West Africa, their meat has the reputation of being an aphrodesiac (as it is with many other species as well). In some areas, the otter is said to possess magical powers: by wearing a piece of fur one can become invisible to an opponent, or escape an enemy as otters escape fish traps.

In Democratic Republic of the Congo, killing has exponentially increased over the recent decade with the proliferation of weapons and munitions, making the shooting of otters from pirogues and the river bank much more common (Thompson pers.com.)

The skin of A. congicus is used in Cameroon to make drums (Alary et al. 2002).

According to Carpaneto and Germi (1989), Mbuti pygmies in northeastern DR Congo use the skins of Congo Clawless Otters to make hats.

Degradation of watersheds via expansion of forestry concessions is a concern for A. congicus  as is potential dam construction in the Ogoué River (Gabon) from where high densities of the species are known.

Research is urgently needed on all aspects of this species' ecology and biology. It is protected at international level, but legislation and its enforcement at national and local level are needed.

Leading Researchers

Lisa Davenport, Hélène Jacques

Key Publications

  • Alary, F. Moutou, F. Jacques, H. (2002) Still on the tracks of the Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus) : first mission in Cameroon. IUCN Bull Otter Specialist Group 19 (1).
  • Allen, J.A. (1924) Carnivora collected by the American Congo expedition. Bulletin American Museum Natural History vol 47. 1922-1925 pp 85-108.
  • Carpaneto, G. M. and Germi, F. P. (1989) Mustelidae and Viverridae from north-eastern Zaire: ethnozoological research and convservation. Mustelid & Viverrid Conservation 1: 2-4.
  • Davenport, L., Jacques H., Yedi, M. (2011)  Rapport sur le projet:  “Ecologie et conservation de la loutre à joues blanches du Congo (Aonyx congicus).  Report to CENAREST, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technologique, Libreville, Gabon.

  • Davenport, L., H. Jacques, & M-L Yedi. (in review)  Preliminary Findings from a New Study of the Congo Clawless Otter (Aonyx congicus) on the Dji Dji River, Ivindo National Park, Gabon (or “Where Have All the Otters Gone?”),  IUCN Otter Specialist Bulletin.

  • Davis, J.A. (1978) A classification of the otters. Pp. 14-33 in Otters (N. Duplaix, ed.). IUCN Otter Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland.
  • De Barros Machado, A. (1967) Mamiferos de Angola ainda naô citados ou ponco conhecidos. Museo do Dundo, Lisboa.

  • Hinton, M.A.C. (1921) Paraonyx, a new genus of Clawless Otter discovered by Capt. J.E. Philipps, M.C. in Central Africa. Annals and Magazine of Natural History (9) 7 : 196-200.

  • Jacques H. Moutou F. & Alary F. (2002a) - On the tracks of the Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus) in Gabon”. IUCN Bull Otter Specialist Group 19 (1).

  • Jacques, H. (2002b) Aonyx congicus , Mission Gabon. Unpublished report, Grenoble. 87 pp.

  • Jacques, H. (2002c) Aonyx congicus , Mission Congo.  Unpublished report, Grenoble. 46 pp.
  • Jacques, H. (2004) Aonyx congicus , Mission Niger.  Unpublished report, Grenoble. 38 pp.

  • Jacques, H. (2006) Aonyx congicus , Mission Cameroon.  Unpublished report, Grenoble. 42 pp.

  • Jacques H., Veron G., Alary F. & Aulagnier S. (2009) - The Congo clawless otter (Aonyx congicus) (Mustelidae: Lutrinae): a review of its systematics, distribution and conservation status. African Zoology Vol. 44, No. 2, October 2009.

  • Jacques, H., Parnell, R. and Alary, F. (2013) Aonyx congicus. Congo clawless otter; pp108-110 In Kingdon, J. and Hoffmann,M. (eds) 2013,  Mammals of Africa, Volume V : Carnivores, Pangolins, Equids and Rhinoceroses. Bloomsbury Publishing, London.

  • Larivière, S. (2001) Aonyx congicus. Mammalian Species No. 650. The American Society of Mammalogy. 1-3.
  • Lönnberg, E. (1910) A new species of clawless otter (Aonyx capensis congica) from Lower Congo. Arkiv för Zoologi 7:1-8.

  • Rahm, U.  and Christiaensen, A. (1963) Les mammifères de l'île Idjwi (Lac Kivu, Congo). Musée Royal de L'Afrique Centrale, Annales Série IN-8, Sciences Zoologiques 149:1-35.

  • Ray, J., Hunter, L. & Zigouris, J. (2005) Setting conservation and research priorities for larger African carnivores.Wildlife Conservation Society Working Paper 24: 1–203.

  • Rosevear, D. R. (1974) The carnivores of West Africa. Trustees of the British Museum, London.

  • Van Bree, P.J.H., Bosscha Erdbrink, D.P. & Roescher, F.J. (1999) A second find of Aonyx antiquus in the Netherlands, and some remarks on Aonyx and allied forms in forms in: Elephants have a snorkel ! Papers in honour of Paul Y. Sondaar. Eds. Reumer and De Vos, Deinsea, 7 : 313-323.
  • Van Zyll de Jong, C.G. (1987) A phylogenic study of the Lutrinae using morphological data. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 65 : 2536-2544.

  • Wilkie, D. S., Starkey, M., Abernethy, K., Effa, E.N., Telfer, P., Godoy, R. (2005)  Role of prices and wealth in consumer demand for bushmeat in Gabon, Central Africa. Conserv. Biol., 19: 268–274.

  • Wozencraft, W. C. (2005) Order Carnivora. Pp. 532-628 in Mammal Species of the World : a taxonomic and geographic reference 3rd edition (Wilson, D. E., and Reeder D.M.,eds.). The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Useful Links