Contrary to the 2005 film, Madagascar, fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox) are not ravenous pack hunters. However, they are widely feared by lemurs, the fossa’s main prey. A relative of the mongoose, the fossa is an unusual and elusive predator. The Malagasy carnivores (carnivores endemic to Madagascar) are thought to have evolved from one ancestor that rafted over from mainland Africa around 20 million years ago. This explains the uniqueness of these carnivores, having diversified to fill the niches occupied elsewhere by predators such as cats, civets and mongooses.
With their mongoose-like head, cougar-like body, dog-like muzzle and monkey-like tail, fossas appear to be an amalgamation of many different species. They have evolved to become the largest Madagascan predator. Adults have reddish-brown coats whilst juveniles are more grey in colour.
Inhabiting forest habitats across Madagascar, the fossa has the most widespread range of all the Malagasy carnivores. Although the fossa is capable of preying upon all extant lemur species, they will pretty much eat any animal they can find, from birds to insects. Being both terrestrial and arboreal, they are adept hunters on the ground as well as up in the trees. They have many adaptations to climbing. For instance, their long tail helps to maintain balance and their semi-retractable claws gives them a strong grip.
Listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the fossa is threatened by the ongoing destruction of its forest home. Less than ten percent of Madagascar’s original, intact forest cover remains today. Madagascar should be viewed as an oasis of biodiversity – housing species, like the fossa, found nowhere else on earth. Madagascar should not be viewed as an area to exploit for monetary gain.
Hennessy, K., Wiggins, V. (2014) Animal Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide. 2nd edn. London. Dorling Kindersley.