For the Love of the Otter at Londolozi

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Above: The fantastic view Chris had of the otter from the Granite Camp deck. This photograph was actually taken by a guest staying in the camp at the time.

Otters are known for their elusive behaviour and can have you in a tizz trying to glimpse and photograph them. It can take a lifetime or one lucky second. Discover the allure of the otter in this story, Otter Joy, written by Amy Attenborough, as played out at Londolozi Private Game Reserve.

When Chris Goodman, Londolozi’s Habitat Manager, was a little boy, he went on a fishing trip to Mafikeng with his father. In the middle of the night they woke up to the sound of dogs barking. Shining a spotlight towards their keep net revealed three sets of eyes. Chris’ dad told him they were otters! Knowing they were there but not really being able to see them created instant intrigue for Chris and fuelled his desire to see one in the wild from very early on in his life. Little did he know that the knowledge they were there but not really seeing them would be a lasting trend for many years to come.

As a young adult, Chris travelled to the United Kingdom. There he caught a glimpse of an otter but it was hardly a great sighting and they weren’t the same species of African/Cape Clawless Otter that we get here in South Africa. So when Chris arrived at Londolozi almost a decade ago and was told that otters are virtually crawling all over the river, he set his heart on finding one.

Being shy creatures, otters often stick to the dense reeds in the river. If spotted, they will disappear below the surface, using the current to wash downstream and pop up further along the river to avoid being detected.

Late one night, at one of the crossing points in the river, Chris saw movement, the water rippling and some eyes glancing back at him in the spotlight. The next day he returned to check and sure enough, there were otter tracks right where he had seen the eyes. Once again he had missed a proper view. Because he had become so desperate to see one, it became a bit of a running joke in the lodge. People would be standing on one of the camp decks overlooking the river and someone would shout “otter!”. Chris would almost twist his head off trying to see where the spotter was looking, only for everyone to collapse in a heap of laughter.


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Tracks of a Cape Clawless Otter. Although these can be found all over the river, the animal that leaves them is not as prolific.

It got so bad that when one of the brand new trainees, who had only been at Londolozi for a few days, legitimately saw one, he radioed Chris, who almost tore a hamstring on his rush down to the deck; sure enough, just a few seconds before he got there, the otter vanished, leaving the trainee sweating and desperately trying to convince Chris (then Head Ranger) that he hadn’t been having him on.

So when Chris got a radio call just a few days ago to say that an otter had been seen from Varty Camp, it comes as no surprise that he was fairly sceptical. Having nothing to lose though, he shot down to the camp and as he stepped foot onto the deck, the team that had gathered groaned in unison. “Ahh, it’s just disappeared”.

Chris grabbed a pair of binoculars and frantically began scanning the river. After a few tense moments, through a tiny gap in the reeds, he saw it. As Chris describes it, “the otter was rummaging around in the mud.” Rubbing it’s fore-feet around in the shallows it was trying to disturb fish and crabs, which it could then snap up to eat. Chris grabbed the opportunity and shot across to Granite Camp, which is further west along the river and closer to where the otter was feeding. As he got to the deck, he caught the otter unawares where it was out in the open, on the rocks just to the east of the main deck. “It did this crazy inchworm-like manoeuvre away from me and dived into the water. The whole sighting must have lasted all of three seconds”.


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Otters feed on animals such as crabs, fish, frogs and worms. They dive after prey to catch it, then swim to shore again, where they eat. Their fore paws come in handy as searching devices and are great tools for digging on the muddy bottoms of ponds and rivers, picking up rocks and looking under logs. Extremely sensitive whiskers called vibrissae are used as sensors in the water to pick up the movements of potential prey.

“What I was shocked by was how much white they have underneath their chin and chest. It’s like a crazy bright angora white, it’s really beautiful. The other thing that struck me was how big they are. It was virtually the size of a labrador.”


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The inchworm manouevre Chris was describing as the otter heads back to the main stream.

“The epic thing about this sighting for me was that in order to see one you have to be in the right place at the right time. They’re not an animal that you can just track and find – it requires chance and so I feel kind of blessed. It was such a great sighting and I had it all to myself. It felt like nature threw me a bone after having been hard on me with the otter one for so long.”

Chatting to Chris, it seems what it’s shown him is that out here you’ve never seen it all. These otters, the size of labradors (we’re skeptical about this claim of Chris’), have been in and around the front of his house for the last ten years and yet they had managed to elude him until now. “That is the real joy of living out here for me,” he says, “you can never know when it is that something new will surprise you.”

Photographs by Granite Camp guest, William Ferre.

At One with the Wild Things of Madagascar

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If it is true that fear is the opposite of love, Anjajavy is one place your heart can be sure to find itself again.

There are many things that scare me – the more tangible in nature, like baboons, the big cats and black mambas, but also matters of the heart, like love, truth and trust, and the possibility of losing them. Because of this, because I value courage, because I am in awe of the wonders that exist on the other side of fear, I challenge myself to cross over.

Travelling to wild and remote spaces in Africa, my courage is put to the test constantly. And each time I make the leap, I am rewarded. By an excitement that makes the skin on my arms blush – from a gaze shared with an animal much larger than me. By the honour of nature’s acceptance – when a snakes slithers into my space and lingers, gently, before moving on. By the greater understanding that comes with seeing nature for what she is – real and complex, with skies and seas both fierce and gentle.

As in love, the leap in the face of fear is always worth taking. It is in the leap that life resides.

That said, there is a beauty in a place like Madagascar, with its animals that are brighter, larger, louder and all round more peculiar than anywhere else in the world, and, yet, as my guide at Anjajavy le Lodge, Jonhson William Clovis, told me, not at all dangerous. Not to humans. The ground boa might be fond of lemurs but people hold no allure.

Rather than having to be brave, I could be free, I could return to that state of childlike wonder that comes with feeling safe and protected. I could get close, I could let my guard down.

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With Jonhson, who knows more about the island than I could hope to learn from a century of guidebooks; with Cédric de Foucault, Maitre de Maison at Anjajavy le Lodge and the heart of Anjajavy; with other travellers, young and old; and alone, I roamed the forests, day and night.

Here, on the north-west coast of the island, in one of the richest and most distinctive tropical dry forests in the world, we passed large hairy crabs, the hognose snake, ground boas hidden beneath fallen leaves or in plain sight across our path, spiders I’d never seen before, chameleons larger than a child’s foot, chameleons the size of a pinky finger, tiny mouse lemur and bats of all kinds, trees covered in horny caterpillars, lone sifaka and sifaka in groups (or conspiracies, as the collective is known).

And daily the lemurs came closer, and closer, until any fear I might have been holding onto dissolved and I could sit beside them, taking in the intricacies of their facial expressions, the widening of their eyes in excitement, a smile in a moment of peace, a leap and a dance from tree to tree in fright, flight or fight or merely to get on their way.

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Unlike some parts of Madagascar, Anjajavy le Lodge is dedicated to preserving and growing the reserve that it calls home. This is Cedric’s mission. And it is one that has spread to the whole team and to the villagers living in the reserve. It is one of few unspoilt wildernesses on the island, not destroyed by destructive farming practices. Malaria has been wiped out. And the trees have been allowed to grow into old age – like the ancient baobab trees that stand so tall and wide that it would take nine people to link arms around one.

Because of this, the community working together, the wild things living and loving without threat, a poignant harmony has been created, where you are welcomed into a greater circle of trust. A circle wherein the same gifts of the wild encountered in the leap of courage – the excitement, the acceptance and the understanding – are felt, but with a serenity and an intimacy that is unique to Anjajavy.


Discover more about our first impressions of this Indian Ocean island in our blog, What People Mean When They Say Madagascar is Beyond Words, and look out for more tales from our adventure to Anjajavy le Lodge in our blogs to follow.

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