Best known as the dangerous antagonists in the movie franchise Madagascar, the fascinatingly unique Fossa Cryptoprocta ferox are not quite as evil, ruthless and murderous as the movie makes them out to be.

The Fossa is the largest carnivorous mammal on the African island of Madagascar, and has been compared to a small cougar. They also look somewhat like a cross between a cat, a dog, and a mongoose. Fossas have slender bodies, muscular limbs, semi-retractable claws and short, reddish-brown coats. They have small, cat-like heads, short, dog-like muzzles, and large, rounded ears. They can reach nearly six feet in length, with half of that due to their long tails, and weigh between 5.5 and 8.6 kg (12 and 19 lb).

The Fossa’s genus name, Cryptoprocta, is inspired by how its anus is concealed by an anal pouch; it comes from the Greek for hidden (crypto) and anus (procta). The Fossa’s species name, ferox, refers to its exaggerated reputation for ferocity. Lately, scientists have placed the Fossa in the Eupleridae family, a group that consists of Malagasy carnivores, thought to have descended from mongoose-like ancestors that colonised Madagascar about 20 million years ago.

Fossas hunt during both day and night, and can take prey from both the ground and in trees. Its long tail comes in handy while hunting and manoeuvring among the tree branches. Lemurs make up a good deal of their diets, but they also eat small mammals, fish, lizards, birds, frogs, and insects.

Both males and female Fossas occupy territories that they scent mark with secretions from glands on their chests and under the base of their tails. They mark rocks, trees, and the ground to communicate and keep track of each other. They also make several kinds of sounds to further aid communication, including purring, yelps and loud inhalations and gasps.

Mating between Fossas usually occurs in trees on horizontal branches and can last for several hours. A female will occupy a mating site for up to a week, mating with several males in that time; a unique survival strategy among carnivores. Litters are usually two to four pups, which are born blind and toothless. Infants wean after 4 to 5 months and are independent after a year. Sexual maturity occurs around three to four years of age, and life expectancy in captivity is 20 years.

The endemic-to-Madagascar Fossa is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is generally feared by the Malagasy people and is often protected by their fady (taboo culture). The greatest threat to the species is, as is usually the case, habitat destruction by humans. Although the species is widely distributed on Madagascar, it is locally rare in all regions, making Fossas particularly vulnerable to extinction.

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