If your only exposure to this animal is through the 2005 American computer-animated comedy movie “Madagascar” and you thought they were made up – well, you were wrong.
Just as the “Hollywood version” of the animal preys on lemurs and lives in the trees of Madagascar, there happens to be a lot of real life parallels there. In fact, this incredibly interesting animal is about as mysterious as the DreamWorks Animation production team made them out to be. Here’s a closer look at the fossa animal.
Fossa is a cat-like carnivore that is actually more closely related in genetics to the mongoose than the physical traits may appear.
Some describe this animal as looking like a cross between a puma and a dog. They really have a very distinct look that leans on lean, sleek, fast and nimble.
Fossa is native to the tiny island nation of Madagascar, located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of africa and all other carnivores found on the island are believed to be related and had colonized there between 18 and 20-million years ago.
As stated earlier, if you can imagine a cross between a puma and a dog, you can get a fairly accurate visual of what fossa looks like. The body of one will measure between 27 and 31-inches from the head to the base of the tail.
The interesting thing about the tail of a fossa is that it will represent about half of the animal’s complete body length measuring between 26 and 28-inches in length. So, that means they can measure 53 to 59-inches from head to tip of tail.
The male is slightly larger than the female weighing between 13 to 19-pounds. Females will weigh about 12 to 15-pounds.
The normal color of this animal is a reddish-brown. During breeding season the abdomen turns orange due to the secretion of a substance from glands in the chest. The young is typically grey or white.
They are night hunters and their eyes will reflect an orange color in light. Fossa spends most of their time in trees and has flexible ankles that give them the mobility to climb straight up trees or climb down them headfirst.
The lifespan in captivity of a Fossa animal is up to 20 years. Their behavior is interesting as they are essentially the very top of the food chain in Madagascar, they have not predatory threats other than humans. They mark out their territory using a scent secreted from their posterior end but rarely spend much time on the ground other than to hunt.
Fossa will hunt any time of day or night and are considered “ambush hunters.” What this means is that they wait until a food source happens to walk by and will jump forward, grabbing the prey with their claws.
The tiny island of Madagascar is the home for this animal. That is where they have become the most widespread carnivore but they live in small populations.
The Fossa ‘communities’ are mainly located in the forests. Essentially, anywhere on the island where human activity has not taken place is where you’ll find this animal. That means mostly in the forests.
There’s a reason why all the computer-generated lemurs were frightened by the appearance of Fossa in the movie “Madagascar” – that’s because they happen to be the food of choice for the cat-like carnivore. Sure, there’s other yummy prey on the island and you can bet the average Fossa has tried it and very likely liked it.
Anything that can be described as a rodent, lizard or bird is all part of the Fossa diet. Where this gets rather interesting is that size doesn’t appear to matter as some lemur species can weigh up to 90-percent of the weight of the Fossa hunting it.
• There are 30 different species of lemurs that inhabit Madagascar. Fossa hunts and eats them all. In fact, lemurs make up about 50-percent of the Fossa animal diet.
• They have a territory that measure out to about 4 square kilometers. The animal marks that territory with a scent secreted from an anal gland.
• They can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Lemurs, on the other hand, are somewhat slower.
• The mating season runs from October to December and a female Fossa will mate with more than one male during that time.
• The average Fossa pregnancy will last six to seven weeks and there will be two to four young babies born. The young Fossa will weigh just 3.5-ounces and are born both toothless and blind. It will be about 20 days after birth when the babies will open their eyes for the first time.
With estimates hovering around 2,500 and a 30-percent decline in population expected over the next three generations, the Fossa is in danger of disappearing. The loss of habitat and hunting by humans are largely to blame for this.
In fact, the animal is currently listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Where it has become difficult to accurately collect data on the situation is that most of the conservation efforts of any large scale seem to be focused on the lemur rather than the Fossa.
The government of Madagascar has been called to action to take note of the changing animal demographics in the wilds of the island nation.
As the Fossa requires heavy forest to survive, and forests are being removed, it is creating a situation that could become more than serious as to whether or not they will appear in any further “Madagascar” sequels.
As bleak as it may sound for the Fossa, there is some good news. A number of reserves located in Madagascar are designated protected sites. Fossa can roam around safely without fear of being hunted in the Ankarana and Analamera Special Reserves.
They are also protected in three National Parks. Plus, a captive breeding program has met with success in keeping the Fossa from completely dying off. It would be a sad thing to see if a creature that played such a huge role in the plot line of the first “Madagascar” film ended up gone forever.
The Fossa of Madagascar is an example of how our world has changed. For millions of years it ruled the animal kingdom on the small African island.
They became the top of the food chain and everything else became prey. The balance seemed pretty stable for centuries until man got involved and started removing fossa’s habitat for commerce and residential purposes.
It could not fight back as their only known enemy is man. Fortunately, the declining numbers led to the establishment of protected areas for the animal.
To ensure the Fossa lives on, a captive breeding program was launched. It provided far more data into the inner workings of this otherwise mysterious jungle resident.
Although it was man who started to have an impact on the future of the Fossa, at least now that impact will be positive rather than negative.