It was eight o’clock in the morning, day two of trap checks in Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar. I walked behind Estoria, a guide, and Mamy, a Malagasy student, and my eyes scanned the dense forest for signs of birds or reptiles. We walked from trap to trap, checking to see if we caught any fosa, but all were empty so far. In the meantime, we logged sightings of geckos, snakes, chameleons, or birds such as the paradise flycatcher, with its ribbon-like tail, or the crested drongo, with the feathery crown protruding from its head. I was craning my neck to spot the elusive sources of the birdsong that surrounded us, when all of a sudden Estoria stopped short. “Fosa!” he cried, and sure enough, I glimpsed a flash of golden brown fur, crouched in the wire trap in front of us. We gazed at it in amazement for a moment—our first fosa caught! Then Mamy and I sprang into action and raced back down the trail until we found enough signal to alert camp by walkie-talkie.
The fosa is the largest carnivore in Madagascar. It somewhat resembles a big cat, but it’s large nose, slender body, and very long tail give it a unique appearance. As apex predator of the forest, it hunts on the ground and in the trees, and eats anything from ground birds to lemurs. Fosa are very important to the ecology of Madagascar’s forest, but like most of Madagascar’s wildlife, they are threatened by habitat destruction, persecution, and competition from introduced species such as dogs. Trapping and studying fosa allows the American and Malagasy conservationists to work together in order to learn more about this important species, and make recommendations to the National Parks that work to protect them.
Later that morning, the fosa, fast asleep under a dose of sedative, lay on a table in camp while we took his body measurements and assessed his age and health. People from the nearby village who work to guard and maintain camp watched curiously—fosa are often persecuted by villagers, but this study has helped them learn more about the species and its importance in the forest. We also fastened a radio collar around the fosa’s neck, which will provide information about the size of his home range and whether he uses forest edges, patches, or deforested savanna. Such information could be used to inform corridor projects that could connect fragmented forest and improve fosa habitat. Finally, we placed the fosa in a dark, quiet crate so he could recover.
Later, as the sun began to sink through the trees, we carried the fosa back to the forest and opened the crate. He leapt onto the path and ran nimbly into the undergrowth, his long tail disappearing through the leaves. I felt awestruck by this elusive, versatile carnivore, and I am so grateful to play a part in the efforts that will hopefully allow fosa to reign as king of Madagascar’s jungle for many, many years.