New Carnivore in Madagascar

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In 2004 the first new carnivore to be discovered for 24 years was found in Madagascar.  It was officially described as a new species in 2010.  The Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) is a kind of mongoose, closely related to the brown tailed mongoose or brown tailed vontsira (Salanoia concolor), also endemic to Madagascar.  However the Durrell’s vontsira is apparently semi-aquatic.  It swims in lakes, has physical features adapted to an aquatic lifestyle, and appears to fill a similar biological niche to otters.

The discovery is an exciting story for zoologists.  While new species are discovered every week in the oceans, not many new animals are found on land and these are mostly very small invertebrates.  A medium sized carnivore is headline news. 

A Durrell’s vontsira was spotted swimming in a lake in 2004, which is not something brown tailed mongooses do. The Durrell’s vontsira is about the size of a cat and weighs a little over a pound.  It has rusty brown fur, strong, sharp carnivore teeth and the typical long thin shape of a mongoose, leading one observer to describe it as looking like ‘a scruffy little ferret’. 

This animal was caught, examined and then released.  Two further vontsiras were trapped later for further examination and one was euthanised.  This sounds bad but a specimen provides proof that the species exists and is almost essential for conservation measures to be implemented. 

The body was sent to the Natural History Museum in London for further examination.  It was evealed that,as well as the difference in behaviour,there were also enough physical differences between this animal and similar mongooses for it to be categorised as a completely new species.

Very little is known about the Durrell’s vontsira so far.  Guesses have been made about its behaviour and diet based on knowledge of similar carnivores elsewhere.  It inhabits wetlands and has an extremely limited range.  Its diet presumably consists primarily of fish and crustaceans.  This is pretty much all we know.

It appears that this animal is one of the most endangered in the world and is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN red list.  They are threatened by habitat destruction, introduced invasive species including competing carnivores such as civets and feral cats, and water pollution.

Given its very small range, one restricted area of an island, the Durell’s vontsira is exceptionally vulnerable to such threats.  Just how threatened the animal is at present is not known but it can be assumed that without protective measures the species is in imminent danger of extinction.



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