Found in forests and wooded savannas ringing the coasts of Madagascar. Very scarce in most areas.
Fosa are carnivores. They mostly eat lemurs - along with everything from bush pigs to insects - as well as birds, fish, and reptiles.
Vulnerable. The population is still decreasing and is now believed to be below 3,000 individuals.
Madagascar's Legendary Carnivore
Pronounced foose-uh, these carnivores are the king of the Malagasy forest. They are the largest living carnivorous mammals native to the island of Madagascar. Fosas are equally comfortable on the ground or high in the trees. Semi-retractable claws and flexible ankles allow fosas to move as easily as squirrels in those trees - including running head first down tree trunks! Their tail is nearly the length of their body and helps them balance as they move along branches. This enables fosas to hunt anything from bush pigs to lemurs - as well as birds, fish, reptiles, and insects.
These agile carnivores play a leading role in maintaining lemur diversity. They do this by eating lemurs. Sound strange? In a healthy forest, some lemur species like the brown lemurs are more abundant. So when a fosa goes hunting, it is most likely to have a brown lemur for dinner. In forests that have lost their fosas, the brown lemurs outcompete the rarer lemurs. Soon the forest is filled with brown lemurs – and very few others.
Over the years, scientists have classified this special animal in the cat family as well as the mongoose family. Once the genetics were analyzed, they discovered they are very different. Today, fosas and other smaller carnivores on Madagascar have been placed in their very own family, known as Eupleridae.
While lemurs have to watch out for fosas, you would not imagine people being afraid of a fosa. Indeed, living fosas do not attack humans, but folk lore brims with tales of an aggressive creature snatching babies from cribs, extinguishing the safety of campfires, and killing entire flocks of chickens. “Be good,” they are warned, “or the fosa will get you.” Far from mere superstition, however, these stories are likely based on Cryptoprocta spelea, an extinct relative of the fosa about the size of a small leopard which may have survived just a few hundred years ago - a creature worthy of the legends. Unfortunately, without additional help, today’s fosas are at risk of surviving only in those fairy tales as well.
Madagascar: Helping Dr. Luke Dollar Save Fosas
To provide some of that additional help to save fosas, Naples Zoo supports the on-the-ground efforts of Dr. Luke Dollar, a renowned wildlife biologist, conservationist, and National Geographic Explorer with over 25 years of experience. Today, Naples Zoo fully funds the annual salary of four of Luke's staff involved in his fosa conservation work:
- Country Director: Tinawati Soeisanto
- Logistical Director: Harinhala Rin’ha
- Local Research Manager: Solonantenaina Randriamparany
- Local Research Assistant: Ravelojaona Rojo
Naples Zoo funded the first GPS-collar monitoring of fosas. The Zoo has also helped fund educational posters, stickers, and lambas (multipurpose garment at left) that educate farmers how killing fosas hurts them because fosas eat the rats and pigs that spoil stored rice and tear up their agricultural fields. Other projects include fuel efficient stoves to reduce deforestation. Naples Zoo has also fully funded the construction of a new school by Ankarafantsika National Park in northwest Madagascar where Luke has operated long-term field work. It is expected to open in late 2020 or 2021. Two Naples Zoo staff have joined Luke and his team in Madagascar.
Among Luke's many credits, he is Bashore Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Environment and Sustainability at Catawba College and Adjunct Professor in the Nicholas School at Duke University. Beyond college students, he also teaches 4th grade students in Collier County each year. Through a collaboration with Collier County Public Schools, Luke visits Naples Zoo where he speaks with a classroom of students in person by the zoo's fosa while he is being broadcast live to over 3,000 students in all 30 public elementary schools in the county. Pre-selected students are connected in remotely to talk to Luke live and ask a question as well. Afterwards, Luke visits schools to meet with more students in person (video). Over the years, he has personally visited every public fourth grade classroom inspring the next generation of scientists!
A MESSAGE FROM DR. LUKE DOLLAR
“The fate of the fosa would be substantially less secure than it is now without the long-term, sustained support from the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens. The longest-running sponsors of our conservation and development operations in Madagascar, Naples Zoo and their supporters have facilitated more than a decade-long ongoing national outreach program to raise awareness about the fosa and its importance to the local people and ecosystems of Madagascar. In addition, Naples Zoo’s ongoing sponsorship has funded more collaring and satellite-based tracking of fosas than any other organization on Earth, enabling us ever-finer-scaled views of their habitat use and needs than ever before. Finally, Naples Zoo’s investments in our work do not stop at the limits of endemic fauna, but extend to providing support for local communities through improved livestock protection, reducing wildlife conflicts, and fuel-efficient cook stoves, reducing demand that would otherwise lead to greater forest-use pressures. Their support spans a great breadth, from endemic flora and fauna to community education and engagement, and thanks to this partnership, the future for the biodiversity and populace of Madagascar looks better as a result.”