Monday, 19 May 2014

Charlie the Otter

From time to time, I am asked to either release or rear an orphaned animal (mostly birds).  This is the story of a rather secretive species.

In one of my earlier blogs, I spoke about Charlie.  Let me tell you a bit more about Charlie.  She was a ‘rescued’ Cape/African Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) that found a new home at Rookwood.


Charlie's river - the Tuli

Charlie apparently was found on
the Orange River as an abandoned pup. Ian rescued her and she became part of his home until he realized that he could not keep her locked up anymore and that she should return to her natural environment.  Ian then searched for a suitable place to release her back into the wild and through a couple of contacts, he was assured that the Tuli River at Rookwood would be the perfect place for her to be freed.

Otter scats

 Just to give you background on Cape Clawless Otters, they are fairly ferocious animals.  They are called clawless as they have no claws.  Their main diet is crabs although they can eat worms, frogs and fish.  The females tend to have a smaller range to the males who can travel up to 10km at night time.  They tend to lie up during the day and forage mainly at night time.  They are quite secretive animals and one can identify the presence of otters normally by finding their scats.  They use one spot to deposit their scats and these are referred to as mizzens.

the clawless feet of Charlie

Years ago I had come across an otter at the fountain at Rookwood.  Meagan was still a toddler in my backpack and fortunately the wind was not blowing towards the otter so it was unaware of our presence.  I stood in awe watching this magnificent creature quietly enter the water in front of me.  From then on I always knew we had otters in our river and felt very privileged to have seen one.

So when Charlie was looking for a home, well we had one.  Charlie travelled down to Rookwood from Aliwal North and arrived in the evening.  The next morning we all ‘walked’ Charlie down to the fountain.  She was of course not the fastest of walkers and was interested in all the smells around her.

At the fountain, it was as if we had given her candy.  She took to the water with great delight and after a while she disappeared.  We left her down there as we assumed she had found a place to hide up for the day.   
Late afternoon we went down and Ian fed her some chicken, which he had always done before.  We left Ian to say his farewells.  It must have been quite an emotional parting, but she seemed very happy with her new natural pool.

I continued to take food down to her towards late afternoon for the next week.  I would call her and she would come and collect her food; however I did not try to befriend her as we wanted her to return to the wild. Watching the movement of the bubbles was always fascinating as she swam under the water towards you.  This was a sign that she was present.  One evening she was not around and I felt at a loss, but realized that she must have moved further down the river to explore her new found freedom.  I was fortunate to get some very good pictures of her.
Charlie with food

Approximately three months later a friend of ours was walking up the river in the morning and came across an otter foraging.  She seemed to be unperturbed by the presence of a human.  We realized this was Charlie.    A couple of weeks later I walked down the river and came to the same spot where she had been seen and called her softly. 

Charlie's corner
I watched the bubbles as she swam under the water across the pool.  We have called this spot Charlie’s corner as the river does makes a ninety-degree bend. The otter scats are fresh and it is a more remote part of the property where she has the river to herself. She lives with the Gymnogene and Rock Kestrels that breed on the kranzes there.

Whenever I walk up or down the river, I look for the otter scats and find a lot and in most cases they are fresh too.  On odd occasions, I have seen an otter too, but as to whether that is Charlie or one of her progeny, I would not know.  I am just grateful she could be returned to her natural habitat instead of being locked up in a house and swimming in a human swimming pool when her owner would come home from work!

Charlie swimming the fountain



  1. Wonderful story! It is lovely you were able to be a part of Charlie's story.