Nimba Otter Shrew
(Micropotamogale lamottei)
Also known as the pygmy otter-shrew, this otter-like semi-aquatic mammal is brown to blackish brown in colour and has a long tail like a rat. It is nocturnal, resting in burrows during the day and hunting fish, crabs and tadpoles along river banks at night. The population status of this species is unknown, although it is likely to be threatened in some areas by mining activities, which have devastated parts of its habitat. It is also sometimes accidentally caught and drowned in fish traps.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat protection, further research and implementation of captive breeding programme.
Restricted to Mount Nimba, which overlaps the borders of the Ivory Coast, Guinea and Liberia.
Nimba otter-shrews can remain underwater for over 10 minutes by lowering their metabolic rate.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Insectivora
Family: Tenrecidae
Tenrecs are a diverse family of insectivores with an Afro-Malagasian biogeographic distribution. Three subfamilies (Geogalinae, Oryzorictinae, Tenrecinae) are restricted to Madagascar and one subfamily, the otter shrews (Potamogalinae), occurs on the mainland. Recent molecular evidence suggests the otter shrews diverged from the Malagasy tenrecs approximately 53 million years ago. The subfamily Potamogalinae comprises two groups of otter-shrew: the dwarf otter-shrews (Micropotamogale lamottei and Micropotamogale ruwenzorii), and the giant otter-shrews, consisting of the single species Potamogale velox. All three species are well-adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. This adaptation is thought to have enabled them to survive while other, closely related species were driven to extinction, probably by competing soricid (shrew) and erinaceid (hedgehog) species. Tenrecs belong to a group of African mammals, the Afrotheria, which also includes aardvarks, elephants, hyraxes, sea cows, elephant shrews, and golden moles.
Head and body length: approx. 120-155 mm
Tail length: approx. 95-135 mm
Weight: 95 g
A soft-furred aquatic mammal which resembles a small otter. The fur is uniformly grey-brown in colour, and the species has a slender tail. The feet lack any trace of webbing
The species is nocturnal and semi-aquatic. It is an excellent swimmer and diver, despite its tail and feet not being specifically adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. Prey is caught on short dives or along river banks and eaten on land. Underwater prey is probably located by touch, using the stiff whiskers in the flattened muzzle. The species is believed to be an opportunistic feeder, eating crabs, catfish, tadpoles and insects. Like its relatives, the Nimba otter-shrew is mostly solitary and digs burrows to rest in during the day.
Inhabits small rivers, upland forest streams and swampy areas. Thought to occur in primary and secondary rainforest and even cocoa and coffee plantations providing there is dense vegetation remaining along the watercourses.
Thought to be restricted to an area covering less than 1,500 km² in the vicinity of Mount Nimba, overlapping the borders of Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea and Liberia.
Population Estimate
The population status of this species is unknown, although it is thought to be very rare around villages and where hills are not present.
Population Trend
Classified as Endangered (EN B1ab(iii)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Mining activities in Liberia have devastated parts of the species’ habitat. Bauxite mining is now expanding into neighbouring Guinea, posing a further threat. Agricultural development, particularly wetland rice cultivation, has also destroyed large areas of suitable habitat. Accidental drowning in fish traps and nets also occurs, and is likely to be an increasing problem as human density increases.
Conservation Underway
Occurs in the Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve. However, this area is on the List of the World Heritage in Danger: it is under threat from mining activities and an influx of refugees from Liberia, who have invaded areas in and around the park.
Conservation Proposed
Protection of the Nimba otter-shrew’s habitat and further research into the species’ ecology and threats – particularly the impact of mining and bycatch in fish traps and nets – are urgent priorities.
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Afrotheria Specialist Group. 2004. Specialist Group website. Available at:http://www.calacademy.org/research/bmammals/afrotheria/ASG.html.

Guth, C., Heim de Balsac, H. and Lamotte, M. 1959. Recherche sur la morphologie deMicropotamogale lamottei et l'évolution des Potamogalinae. I. - Ecologie, denture, anatomie crânienne. Mammalia 23: 423–447.

Kuhn, H. J. 1964. Zur Kenntnis von Micropotamogale lamottei (Heim de Balsac). Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 29: 152–173.

Kuhn, H. J. 1971. An adult female Micropotamogale lamotteiJournal of Mammalogy 52: 477–478.

Nicoll, M. E. and Rathbun, G. B. 1990. African Insectivora and elephant-shrews: An action plan for their conservation. IUCN/SSC Insectivore, Tree-Shrew and Elephant-Shrew Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Vogel, P. 1983. Contribution à l'écologie et à la zoogéographie de Micropotamogale lamottei (Mammalia, Tenrecidae). Revue d'Écologie (La Terre et la Vie) 38(1): 37–49.

Vogel, P. 2008. Micropotamogale lamottei. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 12 September 2010.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

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