147.
Fossa
(Cryptoprocta ferox)
VU
Overview
Madagascar’s answer to a puma, the fossa is an unusual-looking mammal with both feline and canine features. It is the island’s largest mammalian carnivore, and preys mostly on lemurs, which it pursues through the trees with great speed and agility. Renowned for its appearance, strength, and peculiar mating rituals, the fossa is declining as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. None of the reserves in which it is currently found are large enough to support a viable population of this unique mammal, and urgent measures are needed to secure its future.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat corridors and enlarged reserves needed to support viable populations. Location of traditional 'mating trees' should be taken into account when planning protected areas.
Distribution
Madagascar.
Fact
Female fossa undergo a strange developmental stage unknown in other mammals. During adolescence the female’s clitoris becomes enlarged and covered in spines so that is resembles the male penis, and the cream fur of the underparts is covered by a bright orange secretion, normally seen only in adult males. Adult females lack these features. It is unclear whether this temporary “masculinisation” of female fossa has any adaptive purpose.
Associated Blog Posts
21st Jun 10
The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is a unique carnivore, endemic to Madagascar, is EDGE Mammal number 43, and is today's IUCN Species of the Day. There has ...  Read

Media from ARKive
ARKive image - Young fossa
ARKive video - Fossa - overview
ARKive video - Fossa feeding
ARKive image - Fossa, head detail
ARKive video - Fossa drinking from pool
ARKive image - Female fossa lying on rock
ARKive image - Adult female fossa in leaf litter
ARKive video - Fossa climbing and leaping through trees
ARKive image - Anterior view of adult female fossa
ARKive video - Fossa grooming
ARKive video - Fossa scent marking a log
ARKive image - Female fossa stalking prey on forest floor
ARKive image - Adult female fossa running across deciduous forest floor
ARKive video - Female fossa agressively chasing off unwanted male
ARKive video - Pair of fossa mating in tree branches
ARKive image - Adult female fossas scent marking and investigating one another
ARKive image - Fossa emerging from hollow log
ARKive image - Adult male fossa on forest floor
ARKive image - Adult male fossa prowling on deciduous forest floor
ARKive image - Fossa male at water
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Carnivora
Family: Eupleridae
There has been considerable dispute over the taxonomy of the fossa. It was originally classified as a felid due to its cat-like head and body-shape. However, the fossa's resemblance to cats is a result of convergent evolution. Researchers later placed the fossa in the family Viverridae due to its apparent resemblance to civets and genets. Subsequent studies have suggested that it belongs to a small group of Malagasy carnivores (the family Eupleridae), which also contains the falanouc (Eupleres goudotii) and the Malagasy civet (Fossa fossana). The Eupleridae have the unhappy distinction of being the only carnivore family where all representatives are listed as threatened by the IUCN, with four listed as Vulnerable and four listed as Endangered.

Recent molecular studies indicate that the eight living species of Malagasy carnivores evolved from a single ancestor that is thought to have colonised Madagascar from mainland Africa 18-24 million years ago. The fossa and the Malagasy civet (Fossa fossana) are believed to be the most ancient surviving species within this group. The closest living relatives of the Malagasy carnivores are the Herpestidae (mongooses).

The fossa is the only living species in the genus Cryptoprocta. Fossil evidence indicates that another larger species of fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea) weighing around 17 kg existed on the island of Madagascar in the recent geological past.
Description
Size: 
Head and body length: 610-800 mm
Tail length: approx. 610-800 mm
Shoulder height: 370 mm
Weight: 7-12 kg
The fossa is Madagascar’s largest carnivore. It is an unusual looking mammal, looking rather like a cross between a dog and a cat. It has a short dog-like muzzle, prominent ears and large, forward-facing eyes. The tail is almost the same length as the long, slender body. The short, smooth fur is usually reddish-brown in colour above and cream below, although black individuals have been reported from Isle St Marie, an island off the east coast of Madagascar. The short, sharp claws are semi-retractable, like those of a cat, and enable the species to climb trees efficiently. However, unlike cats, which walk on their toes, the fossa walks on the soles of its feet, a method of locomotion known as plantigrade.
Ecology
The species is active both during the day and at night. Its diet consists mostly of small mammals and birds, but also includes reptiles, frogs and insects. It is a powerful predator, and has keen senses of vision, hearing and smell. An excellent climber, the fossa uses its long tail to provide balance when pursuing lemurs through the trees – in forested areas these primates can make up more than half of the prey items. The species is generally solitary, with variable home ranges - up to 20 sq. km for males and up to 12 sq. km for females - which they scent mark with secretions from their anal glands

Fossas have a very unusual mating system. A single female will exclusively occupy a site high in a tree, below which a number of males congregate. The males compete for mating rights, and over the course of a week, the female will mate with a number of different males. Once the original female has left, a new female will take over the site and, like her predecessor, mates with the males there. These ‘mating trees’ are used for many years. Mating occurs in September and October, with females giving birth to between 2 and 4 young approximately three months later. The young are blind and helpless at birth, each weighing around 100 g. Weaning occurs at around 4-5 months, but the young remain with their mother until they are 15-20 months old. Observations in captivity indicate that sexual maturity is not attained until 4 years. The lifespan of this species in the wild is not known, although it has been known to live for more than 20 years in captivity. The fossa is a top predator and therefore plays a very important role in its ecosystem through controlling the population size of its prey species.
Habitat
Inhabits forests and woodland savannahs, from coastal lowlands to mountainous areas at elevations of 2,000 m.
Distribution
Endemic to Madagascar, the fossa is found at low densities throughout forested areas across the island except for the central plateau.
Population Estimate
The population has been estimated to be fewer than 2,500 individuals.
Status
Classified as Endangered (EN C2a) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Threats
The species is believed to have declined as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation due to logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. Only around 8 percent of Madagascar’s original forest cover remains, with the majority of this forest having been lost during the past fifty years. Fossa are increasingly being driven towards human settlements, and sometimes prey upon domestic poultry. This has led to several killings by local famers who wish to protect their livestock.
Conservation Underway
The species is on Appendix II of CITES and occurs in a number of protected reserves within Madagascar, including the Ankarana and Analamera Special Reserves, and within the Ranomafana, Masoala, Andasibe-Mantadia and Montagne d'Ambre National Parks. There has been a European Breeding Programme (EEP) for fossa since 1994, to maintain the genetic diversity of the species and safeguard against possible extinction in the wild. There are currently around 70 individuals in zoos, mostly in Europe and North America. Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are currently studying the fossa in the Makira National Park. They are focusing in particular on fossa ecology and the possible threats from bushmeat hunters. Researchers from Duke University have been studying fossa behaviour and ecology since 1996, with support from the conservation charity Earthwatch. They are currently focusing on the competitive threat posed by the Indian civet (Viverricula indica) and introduced wild cats. The researchers are also raising awareness amongst the Malagasy people of the role that the fossa plays in controlling populations of crop pests such as rats and wild pigs, and training local people to study and conserve the species.
Conservation Proposed
A recent study indicated that none of Madagascar's 46 protected areas is large enough to support a viable population of fossas (more than 500 individuals). Habitat corridors and enlarged reserves are therefore needed to ensure this species’ long-term survival in the wild. The ‘Durban Vision’ – the Malagasy government’s plan to increase Madagascar’s protected habitats from 1.7 to 6 million hectares – should protect much of the country’s unique biodiversity, including the fossa. However, when planning conservation areas, it is important to take into account the location of traditional mating trees. If these are not included in protected areas then the fossas may leave the reserves to use them during the breeding season, thus making them more vulnerable to the above threats.
References
ARKive. (Nov 2005).

Burness, G. P., Diamond, J. and Flannery, T. 2001. Dinosaurs, dragons, and dwarfs: The evolution of maximal body size. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 98(25): 14518-14523.

Dollar, L. 2000. Cryptoprocta ferox. In: IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 01 August 2006.

Hawkins, C. E. and Racey, P. A. 2005. Low population density of a tropical forest carnivore, Cryptoprocta ferox: implications for protected area management. Oryx 39(1): 35-43.

MacDonald, D. (ed.). 2001. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.

Nowak, R. M. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London.

Schreiber, A., Wirth, R., Riffel, M. and Van Rompaey, H. 1989. Weasels, Civets, Mongooses, and their Relatives: An Action Plan for the Conservation of Mustelids and Viverrids. IUCN/SSC Mustelid and Viverrid Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.

Yoder, A. D., Burns, M. M., Zehr, S., Delefosse, T., Veron, G., Goodman, S. M. and Flynn, J. J. 2003. Single origin of Malagasy Carnivora from an African ancestor. Nature 421: 734-737.

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

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org


Forum comments
  1. Dave
    Member

    WWW.arkive.org is a good site for videos and pictures of animals.
    It has several videos and pictures of the Fossa.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  2. Anonymous
    Unregistered

    there should be more pictures and for the mice and shrews pictures of LIVE ones would be great!

    Posted 5 years ago #
  3. Anonymous
    Unregistered

    Does any one know any good sites on the foosa

    Posted 5 years ago #
  4. Anonymous
    Unregistered

    i mean shows

    Posted 5 years ago #
  5. Anonymous
    Unregistered

    you should have a lnk that sows all the different citation types for this site

    Posted 5 years ago #
  6. Sam Turvey
    Member

    There is a good paper on the extinct giant fossa Cryptoprocta spelea by Simon Goodman et al. available for download at the following site:

    http://www.mnhn.fr/museum/front/medias/publication/1334_z04n1a9.pdf

    There have been varying opinions on the validity of the species among different researchers, but this paper by Goodman et al. analyses a large sample of fossa skeletal material (both fossil and modern) and concludes that C. spelea is a valid, extinct species that existed on Madagascar in the recent past.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  7. Anonymous
    Unregistered

    I'd like to have more information about the spaelia c. as a fossil, thank you,

    Dr. Giuseppe Varnier, varnier@unisi.it

    Posted 5 years ago #

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