New Carnivore in Madagascar

Again we shatter the smugassumption that every large animal has been discovered and even collected.  As I have posted extensively, there is awhole slew of nocturnal creatures out there we have little chance of observingunless we stumble into each other.

Nocturnal means just that.  They den up in daylight were no one can findthem.  At night they hunt their preferredgame and they avoid us and our dogs.  Ifobserved at a distance, they are easily mistaken for a wild dog or the like.Look at this critter.

Classical biology needs arenaissance in which thousands of young researchers get out there and adopttheir private puddle and observe and identify. It is happening in archeology and needs to happen in biology.  Perhaps we start in the high schools.

I got my initial training inbiology the old fashioned way on a nineteenth century farm of a hundred or soacres and accessible woodlands totaling an additional hundred acres.   I located every known recognized wild plantin my locale for the province including some that were rare at best.  I spotted birds of all kinds and evenobserved a full range of wildlife including grouse and a bobcat over theyears.  It was a good use of free time fora high school student.  Of course we alsofarmed.

Biology needs those boots on theground and knowledgeable eyes.

unknown carnivore discovered in Madagascar lake

Rhett A. Butler, 
October 10, 2010

Researchers have identified a previously unknown species of carnivorelurking in one of the world's most endangered lakes. 

Durrell's vontsira (Salanoia durrelli), named in honor of the lateconservationist and writer Gerald Durrell, was first photographed swimming in Madagascar's Lake Alaotrain 2004. Subsequent surveys by scientists at the Durrell Wildlife ConservationTrust, the Natural History Museum,London, Nature Heritage, Jersey,and Conservation International confirmed the mongoose-like creature was indeeda new species.

"We have known for some time that a carnivore lives in the Lac Alaotramarshes, but we’ve always assumed it was a brown-tailed vontsira that is alsofound in the eastern rainforests," said Fidimalala Bruno Ralainasolo, aconservation biologist working for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust whooriginally captured the new carnivore. "However, differences in its skull,teeth, and paws have shown that this animal is clearly a different species withadaptations to life in an aquatic environment." 

Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) - The firstnew carnivorous mammal to be discovered for 24 years. It was discovered on the Island of Madagascarby a team from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), the Natural HistoryMuseum, London, Nature Heritage, and ConservationInternational (CI). © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Durrell's vontsira is the first new carnivorous mammal discovered in Madagascarin 24 years. Little is known about the species, which is roughly the size of acat and is described in the latest issue of the taxonomicjournal Systematics and Biodiversity.

"It is a very exciting discovery. However, the future of the species isvery uncertain."

Photo© Durrell
Durrell’svontsira (Salanoia durrelli) - The first new carnivorous mammal to bediscovered for 24 years. It was discovered on the Islandof Madagascar by a team from DurrellWildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage,and Conservation International (CI). © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. 

Lac Alaotra, Madagascar's largest lake, was thecountry's rice bowl, responsible for feeding a large part of the island'spopulation. At one time the vast lake was surrounded by tropical forest, buttoday this has been cleared for agriculture, and the hills are now bare andriddled with "lavaka," deep, red, eroded gullies. With rain - thesoil left unprotected without forest cover - tons of red earth bleed into thelake, leading it to disappear. Today the lake has a maximum dry season depth ofonly two feet (60 cm) and the region can no longer produce enough rice to supplythe growing population

Lac Alaotra is Madagascar'slargest, and most endangered lake. Sedimentation from deforested watersheds,pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, and burning and agriculturalconversion of the lake's reed beds have left Lac Alaotra's ecosystem in direstraights.

"The Lac Alaotra marshes are extremely threatened by agriculturalexpansion, burning and invasive plants and fish," said Ralainasolo.

Habitat loss and introduction of alien plants have already driven at least wellknown species to extinction: the Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus), whichwas last seen in 1985. 

Scientists warn the same fate could befall Durrell's vontsira as well as theendemic Lac Alaotra Gentle Lemur (Hapalemur alaotrensis), which inhabits thelakes reed beds, if action isn't taken.

"This species is probably the carnivore with one of the smallest ranges inthe world, and likely to be one of the most threatened," said FrankHawkins of Conservation International. "The Lac Alaotra wetlands are underconsiderable pressure, and only urgent conservation work to make this species aflagship for conservation will prevent its extinction."

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