Wild Madagascar has reported that researchers have identified a previously unknown species of carnivore lurking in one of the world’s most endangered lakes.
The new species — named Durrell’s vontsira in honor of the late conservationist and writer Gerald Durrell — is the first new carnivorous mammal to be discovered in 24-years. Little is known about the species, which is roughly the size of a cat and is described in the latest issue of the taxonomic journal.
First photographed swimming in Madagascar’s Lake Alaotra in 2004, subsequent surveys by scientists at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage, Jersey, and Conservation International confirmed the mongoose-like creature was indeed a new species. Fidimalala Bruno Ralainasolo, a conservation biologist working for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, was the one who originally captured this new carnivore:
“We have known for some time that a carnivore lives in the Lac Alaotra marshes, but we’ve always assumed it was a brown-tailed vontsira that is also found in the eastern rainforests. However, differences in its skull, teeth, and paws have shown that this animal is clearly a different species with adaptations to life in an aquatic environment… it is a very exciting discovery. However, the future of the species is very uncertain.”
Lac Alaotra is Madagascar’s largest, and most endangered lake. Sedimentation from deforested watersheds, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, and burning and agricultural conversion of the lake’s reed beds have left Lac Alaotra’s ecosystem in dire straights. Habitat loss and introduction of alien plants have already driven at least one well known species to extinction: the Alaotra grebe, which was last seen in 1985.
Scientists warn the same fate could befall Durrell’s vontsira as well as the endemic Lac Alaotra Gentle Lemur, which inhabits the lakes reed beds, if action isn’t taken. Frank Hawkins of Conservation International had this to say:
“This species is probably the carnivore with one of the smallest ranges in the world, and likely to be one of the most threatened. The Lac Alaotra wetlands are under considerable pressure, and only urgent conservation work to make this species a flagship for conservation will prevent its extinction.”