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Endangered lemurs are now prey for equally endangered 'fosas'

Madagascar is famous for its lush rainforests, playful lemurs, and hidden dangers. Scientists have long known that even the top predators on this island are facing threats to their survival. But what they’ve recently discovered goes beyond the usual story of habitat loss. It’s a hidden clash between endangered species, lemurs and fosas, with shocking implications.

Fosa and lemurs

While fosas might resemble a small cat or an oversized weasel, don’t be fooled. They’re actually unique members of a mongoose-like family of carnivores found only in Madagascar.

These predators are built for success in Madagascar’s forests. Their slender bodies and long tails make them experts at navigating the treetops.

Lemurs are the cornerstone of a fosa’s diet. Unfortunately, this puts them in direct conflict with conservation efforts, as most lemur species are endangered or critically endangered.

Fosas typically rely on their stealth and ambush tactics to catch prey. This means scientists have had to piece together their diet from clues like leftover bones and poop.

Witnessing fosa hunts in action is incredibly rare and valuable for researchers. It helps them understand how these predators behave and the true impact they have on vulnerable lemur populations.

Madagascar habitats

Madagascar’s Betampona Strict Nature Reserve is meant to be a haven for wildlife, but it’s surrounded by farmland. This creates a habitat ‘island’ where animals are cut off from other populations of their own kind.

For the lemurs, isolation means their gene pool shrinks over time. This can lead to health problems and makes the population less resilient to changes in their environment.

With less ability to escape or find new resources, the lemurs in Betampona could become easy targets for the fosas, putting even more strain on their survival.

Survival tactics of lemur from fosas

Lemurs use two main forms of survival:

Fight or flight (or freeze)

We usually think of prey animals running for the hills when threatened. But in Betampona’s small reserve, running might not be the best option.

Staying still and vigilant might confuse the fosa, making the lemur seem less like a meal. It could also help the lemur track the predator’s movements in case it needs to make a quick escape.

This tactic highlights the difficult choices lemurs face in an isolated habitat. Without the ability to flee far, they must adapt their survival instincts.


Betampona’s lemurs can’t easily leave and find mates from other groups. This leads to them breeding with close relatives, a process called inbreeding.

Inbreeding weakens the population. Babies might be born with health problems or not survive at all. This makes it even harder for the species to bounce back from threats like fosa attacks.

A small, unhealthy lemur population is an easier target for predators. This puts even more pressure on their numbers, potentially pushing the species closer to extinction within the reserve.

Lemur fosa conservation

“It’s not that the fosa is the bad guy. It’s also in need of conservation,” says Giovanna Bonadonna, a researcher involved in the study. This is where things get tricky. It’s a reminder of a key conservation concept: ecosystems.

Humans changing the landscape, even with the best intentions of creating protected spaces, can have unintended consequences. Every species is connected in a delicate web.

What can be done?

Madagascar’s wildlife is so unique and so threatened that it requires a team effort stretching far beyond the island itself.

Organizations like The Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Living Earth Collaborative bring different strengths to the table:

  • Zoos: Expertise in animal care, breeding programs, and educating the public.
  • Botanical Gardens: Knowledge of plants, which are the foundation of any ecosystem.
  • Collaborative Networks: Combine resources and coordinate large-scale conservation projects.

These organizations share a common goal: preserving Madagascar’s incredible biodiversity for future generations.

Study significance

This study about lemurs and fosas isn’t just about those two species. It reveals how every creature, plant, and even the landscape itself are connected in a delicate web. True conservation means protecting habitats. That way, entire ecosystems can stay healthy and in balance.

We might picture an endangered animal, but this study forces us to look wider. A thriving ecosystem protects even the predators, because they play a vital role too.

The study is published in Ecology and Evolution.


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