Otter and tigerfish feeding frenzy

Pamushana | April 2020

It was a perfect mid-April dawn and I decided to take the boat out on my own, on the Malilangwe Dam where we offer our boat cruise safaris. The sun had not yet popped out over the imposing sandstone cliffs, the scene was bathed in beautiful low light and the surround sound was of amplified echoing bird calls.

I cruised along the shoreline and it was there that I spotted a disturbance near the water’s edge, so I puttered in for a closer look. I was delighted to see a Cape clawless otter (Aonyx capensis) rolling, twisting, turning, ducking and diving in the shallows. It was hunting all around me and was completely chilled with my presence.

Then I noticed something really fascinating… The water was bubbling and churning near the otter but the otter was fairly still and busy chewing, holding its catch, a flat-headed goby fish, in its little clawless paws. I spotted the unmistakable orange fins of tigerfish breaking the surface and swirling beneath it. A school of tigerfish were following the otter and, while it chewed and ate its catch the tigerfish were snatching bits of its meal. It was really interesting to see the scavenging behaviour of these tigerfish! It was a bit like watching hyenas following wild dogs and then trying to steal the wild dogs’ kill – the tigerfish were like the hyenas of the otter!

Cape clawless otters eat crabs, fish, frogs and worms. They dive after prey to catch it, then swim to shore again, where they eat. They use their paws to dig on the muddy bottoms of dams and rivers, picking up rocks and looking under logs.

Tigerfish are fierce hunters and are mostly piscivorous and tend to eat whatever fish is most available, including other tigerfish. Smaller fish will hunt in large schools while larger tigerfish hunt alone. Insects and zooplankton may also be part of the African tigerfishes diet, especially during juvenile stages of life. Elsewhere a highly unusual feeding behaviour has been recorded where the fish jump out of the water and catch swallows as they fly near the surface of the water feeding on insects.