They look cute, but Marina da Gama’s Cape clawless otters are not to be messed with – they’ve been accused of provoking and attacking dogs.
While they have been playfully dubbed the “Marina Mafia” by resident Teresa Anne Moore, the creatures have scared a number of residents, goaded dogs, and three of them are said to have launched an attack on a resident’s Pekinese.
Inez Arendse, owner of the Pekinese, Sir George Nicholas, said it appeared to have been a co-ordinated attack. One otter had even raised itself about 30cm out of the water, she said, to dart at her during the mê* ée, after she had fallen into the water trying to defend her dog.
It was…otter madness.
Inez said it worried her that they had not been put off by an adult woman, screaming and splashing in the water.
She described how her female dog, Lady Penelope Gaga, had been barking at the water’s edge of her property, and that Sir George had gone to investigate.
She watched in horror as “a black thing” attacked him, and then he was over the edge of the jetty. In seconds, her 3-year-old Pekinese was under the water.
She said she was amazed at the size of the otters and how fast they were.
“I could not get out of the water because they kept on coming for me,” she said. “I was convinced at that point George was gone for good. Those seconds seemed like a lifetime.
“I must have looked quite the crazy woman, splashing and chasing them away. They went under the water, turned around and came again and again, from different angles, very co-ordinated, very clever creatures.”
Inez had a knight with a shining torch help her and George. He spoke to the False Bay Echo but didn’t want any fuss for helping and asked to remain anonymous.
“After investigating a commotion coming from the vlei, we could barely make out a neighbour struggling by the waterside. It was dark and confusing, but after hearing a dog cry and an owner jump into the water frantically calling for it, we offered help,” he said.
“With torch in hand, and wet socks in the pedalo, I made it across to her jetty. The bright light seemed to scare off the otters, and help a terrified dog find familiar comfort in the arms of a loving owner,” he said.
On returning home, he said, an otter had swam up to the pedalo, paused to inspect him, and then disappeared under the surface.
Sir George’s thick fur saved him from actual bites, but he had pieces of fur ripped out during the incident. Inez said he was traumatised and hadn’t left her side since.
While Sir George is the only dog that has actually been physically attacked, two more residents had encounters with the otters.
Teresa Anne Moore wrote on the Marina da Gama Facebook page about her experience on Saturday August 1. She described letting her Scottie dogs out at about 2.30am for a wee when they all started barking at full volume.
Once she got her dogs back into the house she turned the floodlight on and saw an otter which she described as a “large critter”.
It had come right out of the water and had stood, leaning against the fence, looking into the yard, she said.
Ms Moore wanted to be clear she wasn’t anti-otters at all and that she simply wanted to remind residents that otters were not all cute and cuddles but wild creatures.
She said she had lived in the Marina 30 years before seeing them and was thrilled they were there.
Another resident, Max Collett, said otters had teased his dog, Lucy, a boerboel-Labrador mix, just last week. He had just let Lucy into the garden at 10pm when he heard the commotion.
“Lucy went to investigate, and I followed, using my cellphone torch as it was dark. Instead of leaving, the three otters kept about one metre away from the deck, hissing very loudly and provoking my dog.”
It had looked the like the otters had been trying to entice his dog to jump into the water, he said.
Max dragged his dog inside, surprised that the otters were not at all scared of a dog the size of his.
“Look, if you open a residential home in the Kruger Park you are going to get some lions,” he said, “so I am not too sure what the best solution is, we are in otter territory.”
He is worried some people might try to poison the otters. “I don’t want people putting their dogs before the nature reserve’s needs,” he said.
Resident Scott Attfield was unambiguous. He said: “Many people feel their dogs are furry toddlers. For your kids, would you fence your waterside garden to avoid the possibility of them drowning… or would you ask Nature Conservation to drain the lake?”
According to Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, the otters are a historic, indigenous species at Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve.
They are “near threatened” and are therefore protected. Any attempt to chase or hunt them is a punishable offence.
“The Marina waterways count among the very few areas in the Cape Peninsula where the Cape clawless otters still have a natural habitat and this should be carefully protected.”
While not unheard of, otter attacks on dogs were exceedingly rare and direct confrontations with humans even more so, she said.
“As with most wild animals, they will act defensively if cornered and threatened, particularly if juveniles are present. Otters are highly intelligent animals and have been known to tease and even play with dogs.”
Rabies did not circulate in wildlife in the Cape Peninsula and had never been reported in Cape clawless otters, she said.