The San Diego Zoo’s first fossas were two young males, gifts of the Malagasy government in 1967. It was several years before our first female arrived as part of a pair from the Basel Zoo in Switzerland, and we celebrated our first fossa birth in 1989, the first such birth in the Western Hemisphere. Since then, 32 pups have been born at the Zoo over the years.
Today, the San Diego Zoo continues to make a home for fossas, including a male named Isa who serves as an animal ambassador. He was hand-raised after his mother rejected him. Isa meets Zoo guests up close on daily walks around the Children’s Zoo and makes appearances at special events and on television. We believe he is the first fossa in the world to learn to walk on a leash and greet people. He helps spread the word about his species.
Marooned on Madagascar for millions of years, the fossa became the largest native carnivore and dominated the island. Today, fossas are classified as a vulnerable species, with only about 2,500 in the wild. As one of the island's top predators, fossas do not have natural enemies. Yet it is estimated the 90 percent of Madagascar’s native forest habitat is gone, and what is left is considered a key biodiversity hotspot. It is home to 35 lemur species, but lemurs need the forest to survive. In turn, fossas depend on lemurs as a food source. Fossas also have to compete for food with introduced species like civets. And there are diseases that threaten fossas: for example, rabies was introduced to the island by domestic dogs and wild cats.
Fossas also face another hurdle: they have an unfavorable reputation with villagers, who see them as vermin, competitors for resources, and predators of farm animals. They tell bedtime stories of fossas snuffing out campfires and killing entire coops of chickens. These exaggerated stories have unfairly blown the fossa’s reputation out of proportion. Yet because of this sinister standing, many Malagasy people fear fossas and consider them dangerous.
The fossa has help, though, because it is protected from export and trade. Ecotourism also helps the fossa and other wildlife in Madagascar. When people travel to this island to see its amazing biodiversity, their visits provide money for the local people and encourage them to keep the forests as they are.
You can help us bring fossas back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.