This week we discover more about a little well known predator from Madagascar, the Fossa. These cat-like animals are the dominant carnivore on the large island of Madagascar. They also are heading towards extinction as 90% of Madagascar’s forests have disappeared. We had so much fun researching and recording this episode. We know you will fall in love with this crazy critter.
Fossa have confused scientists for quite a while. They could not quite fit it in classical taxonomy. Was it a cat? Or a weasel? Well, over the years they finally classified the unique carnivores of Madagascar into their own family. The Eupleridae described a small group of Malagasy carnivores that exist on Madagascar.
The Fossa’s ancient relatives evolved on the African continent. It is believed around 24 million years ago this ancestor floated over to Madagascar on a raft of vegetation. This ancestor evolved into the 10 species of the Eupleridae family. The Fossa is the top predator in this family line. The Fossa today is only described as a single species with the species name Cryptoprocta ferox. Its relative the Giant Fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea) once existed, was twice the size of the modern Fossa and went extinct. Though when it went extinct no one is sure.
Fossa live up to 20 years under human care, though no one knows in the wild. In fact, we do not know much about Fossa in the wild. We do know these predators are adept climbers. They have flexible ankles with semi-retractable claws that allows them to climb with ease. Their long tails help them balance. Fossa are quite agile and are very capable of catching their favorite prey, lemurs, in trees.
Fossa are predominately an ambush predator. They enjoy a diet of birds, wild pigs, frogs, rodents, lizards and tenerecs (Hedgehog). Their favorite food though is lemurs which comprise approximately 50% of their diet.
Today, Fossa are classified as a vulnerable species, with only about 2,500 in the wild. They are heavily fragmented with the largest pocket at around 400 Fossa. As one of the island’s top predators, fossas do not have natural enemies. Yet it is estimated that 90 percent of Madagascar’s native forest habitat is gone, and what is left is considered a key biodiversity hotspot. It is home to 35 lemur species, but lemurs need the forest to survive. In turn, fossas depend on lemurs as a food source. Fossas also have to compete for food with introduced species like civets. And there are diseases that threaten fossas: for example, rabies was introduced to the island by domestic dogs and wild cats.