- Name: Fossa
- Latin: Cryptoprocta ferox
- Classification: Mammal
- Origin: Madagascar
- Lifespan: 15 years
- Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
- Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
- Class: Mammalia (mammals)
- Order: Carnivora (carnivores)
- Family: Eupleridae (carnivores native to Madagascar)
- Genus: Cryptoprocta (fossa)
- Species: Cryptoprocta ferox (fossa)
- Length: 610-800mm (tail: 610-800mm)
- Weight: 7-12kg
The fossa is the largest land predator on the island of Madagascar. It has short and dense red to bark brown fur and has a cat-like head with a dog-like snout. Its tail it around the same length as its body and the fossa uses it for balance when in the trees. It has large, forward-facing eyes, small, rounded ears and has a number of feline features including curved, retractable claws and slightly webbed feet. The fossa has only slight sexual dimorphism with the females being slightly smaller than the males.
- Eastern falanouc (Eupleres gouclotii) -NEAR THREATENED-
- Giant fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea) -EXTINCT-
- Narrow-striped mongoose (Mungotictis decemlineata) -VULNERABLE-
- Ring-tailed mongoose (Galidia elegans) -LEAST CONCERN-
Habitat & Distribution
Like many of the living species found in Madagascar, the fossa is found nowhere else on earth. They prefer to inhabit the dense forested areas because of the ample food supply and also because there is enough space to establish a territory.
The diet of the fossa is strictly carnivorous with over half of its diet being lemurs, which it catches and consumes in the branches of trees. It will also eat however, birds, baby bush pigs, civet cats, fish, rats, eggs, snakes, frogs and insects. Occasionally, it will raid domestic farmland and steal chickens and small sheep and goats.
The fossa uses its large tail to manoeuvre through the trees of Madagascar quickly and can be active during the day or night. They tend to be solitary unless mating and prefer to live in dens or holes. Their anal glands secrete a very powerful and unpleasant odour which is used to establish territories. It lives at low population densities and requires undisturbed forests.
Mating occurs between September and December. A female will establish a breeding ground and can attract up to 8 males who will compete for her attention using vocalizations. The female will then chose a male to mate with.
Mating can last up to three hours. The reason it is such a lengthy process is because of the physical nature of the male’s penis, which has backwards facing spines along its length. The male will remain with the female for up to an hour after mating. After, the female will leave to be replaced by another.
A mother fossa will have a litter of up to six cubs in a concealed location such as an underground den or a rock crevice. Gestation can last up to 90 days with the young being born in December to January. The new-borns are born blind and toothless and weigh no more than 100g (3.5oz) and the fur is thin and grey-brown. After two weeks, the eyes open, they become more active and their fur darkens to a pearl grey. They take solid food at three months and leave the den at four and a half months and are weaned shortly after. The cubs are independent of their mother after a year and their permanent teeth show at 18-20 months. They reach physical maturity at two years and sexual maturity at three to four years.
- The red to dark brown colouring of the fossas coat provides excellent camouflage when hunting lemurs through the tree tops.
- Not only can the fossa climb trees quickly but they are also able to descend from then head first. This can be accomplished because they have very flexible ankles, which can twist almost completely around.
- The fossa tail is about the same length as its body. This provides excellent balance when climbing through the tree tops. The fossa can keep balance on the thinnest of branches.
- The fossa can produce a very powerful and unpleasant odour from its anal glands. This is used to establish territories and breeding grounds.
There are fewer than 2,500 individuals left on Madagascar and only 10-15% of their country remains wild, the majority of which has been lost in the last 50 years. Their biggest threat is habitat loss, usually for logging and for clearance for farmland. Also, as their home become increasingly smaller, they are forced into human settlements and occasionally steal chickens and small sheep. For this they are killed by farmers. They also have a possible threat from bush meat hunters.
- IUCN Status: Vulnerable
The fossa is listed on Appendix II of CITIES and is present in many protected areas throughout Madagascar such as Kirindy Forest and Ranomofana National Parks. They have been part of successful ex-situ captive breeding programmes since 1994 and there are around 70 individuals in zoos, mainly in Europe and North America.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and from Duke University are studying the fossa and the competitive threat posed by the Indian civet and introduced wild cats. They are also working to raise awareness among the people of Madagascar of the role the fossa plays in pest control and are training local people to study and conserve this animal.
- Male: Male
- Female: Female
- Young: Pup
- Group: Troop
- The fossa is the largest carnivore in Madagascar.
- Have retractable claws like a cat.
- Can descend from trees head first.