What Is a Fossa and Where Can We Find One?
The fossa is a cat-like, carnivorous mammal known to scientists as Cryptoprocta ferox, the fossa is a creature endemic to the forests of Madagascar, a large island in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa known for its diverse, interesting animals. It is a member of the Eupleridae, a family of carnivorans closely related to the mongoose family (Herpestidae).
Its classification has been controversial because its physical traits resemble those of cats, yet other traits suggest a close relationship with viverrids (most civets and their relatives).
Its classification, along with that of the other Malagasy carnivores, influenced hypotheses about how many times mammalian carnivores have colonized Madagascar. With genetic studies demonstrating that the fossa and all other Malagasy carnivores are most closely related to each other (forming a clade, recognized as the family Eupleridae), carnivorans are now thought to have colonized the island once around 18 to 20 million years ago.
The fossa is the largest mammalian carnivore on the island of Madagascar and has been compared to a small cougar. Adults have a head-body length of 70–80 cm (28–31 in) and weigh between 5.5 and 8.6 kg (12 and 19 lb), with the males larger than the females.
It has semi-retractable claws (meaning it can extend but not retract its claws fully) and flexible ankles that allow it to climb up and down trees head-first, and also support jumping from tree to tree. Its slender, muscled body, sharp teeth, and retractable claws make it a formidable opponent in the forest. The fossa is unique within its family for the shape of its genitalia, which share traits with those of cats and hyenas.
Fossas tend to be solitary animals rather than hanging out in groups. To communicate the territory they claim and keep track of one another, fossas use scent glands on the chest and under the tail to mark the ground, rocks, or trees. Fossas are active both during the day and the night. They spend time on the ground and in the trees, so they’re very hard to observe in the wild. When in the trees, they can move very quickly, using their long tails to help keep their balance. The species is widespread, although population densities are usually low.
It is found solely in forested habitat, and actively hunts both by day and night. Over 50% of its diet consists of lemurs, the endemic primates found on the island; tenrecs, rodents, lizards, birds, and other animals are also documented as prey. Mating usually occurs in trees on horizontal limbs and can last for several hours. Litters range from one to six pups, which are born blind and toothless (altricial). Infants wean after 4.5 months and are independent after a year. Sexual maturity occurs around three to four years of age, and life expectancy in captivity is 20 years.
The fossa is listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It is generally feared by the Malagasy people and is often protected by their fady (taboo). The greatest threat to the species is habitat destruction. Fossas rely heavily on Madagascar’s forests. Unfortunately, less than 10% of the island’s original forests remain intact today.