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Plight of the Fossa

News item submitted by Jonathon Usherwood
News item dated 21 Feb 2011

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The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is a medium sized predator endemic to Madagascar. It lives exclusively in forests and is therefore is not found in the islands interior. It is the largest living Madagascan predator and is considered to be the apex predator with no natural enemies. It feeds on a wide variety of vertebrates with lemurs forming half of its diet. It is a powerful predator and agile climber capable of taking on even the largest lemurs. Though in many respects it resembles a cat, it is closest related to the mongoose family as all the predators in Madagascar originated from a single species which colonised the island 20 million years ago.

The fossa is listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN but there is concern that it could be far more endangered. Research taking place in the west of Madagascar in the forest reserve Kirindy has found that the population is only around 30 individuals. In Kirindy the main threat is hunting by humans. In many areas local taboo (known as a fady) prevents the hunting of fossa for food however a trend of killing to protect livestock has developed. If the population continues to decrease the fossa could be locally extinct within 3 years. This is serious as Kirindy is known as a stronghold for fossa and one of the best places to catch glimpses of them in the wild.

In the last 21 years number of fossa have fallen by 30% to an estimated 2500 left in Madagascar. This is due to hunting, as see in Kirindy, and destruction of its forest home. Deforestation is a serious problem in Madagascar and wildlife is being restricted to smaller and smaller islands of viable habitat. Being confined to small patches of forest increases the vulnerability of the animals within to human interactions as they leave the forest to search for food. In most cases these interactions end with the killing of the wildlife for meat or to protect people’s livelihood.

The fossa is a unique animal whose closest relative the giant fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea) is already extinct. Being an apex predator the fossa influences the abundance of many different species and ultimately regulates the ecosystem. Frontier’s Madagascar Forest Project operates in the northern forests well within the fossa’s range. Last year they caught sight of two Fossa in their campsite. It is hoped the volunteers may catch more glimpses of this usually elusive creature using remote camera traps.