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Picture: unknown carnivore discovered in Madagascar lake
Rhett A. Butler, wildmadagascar.org
October 10, 2010


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

Durrell's vontsira (Salanoia durrelli), named in honor of the late conservationist and writer Gerald Durrell, was 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.

"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," said Fidimalala Bruno Ralainasolo, a conservation biologist working for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust who originally captured the new carnivore. "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."


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


Durrell's vontsira is the first new carnivorous mammal discovered in Madagascar 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 Systematics and Biodiversity.

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


Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) - The first new carnivorous mammal to be discovered for 24 years. It was discovered on the Island of Madagascar by a team from Durrell Wildlife 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 the country's rice bowl, responsible for feeding a large part of the island's population. At one time the vast lake was surrounded by tropical forest, but today this has been cleared for agriculture, and the hills are now bare and riddled with "lavaka," deep, red, eroded gullies. With rain - the soil left unprotected without forest cover - tons of red earth bleed into the lake, leading it to disappear. Today the lake has a maximum dry season depth of only two feet (60 cm) and the region can no longer produce enough rice to supply the growing population. Photo © Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
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.

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

Habitat loss and introduction of alien plants have already driven at least well known species to extinction: the Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus), 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 (Hapalemur alaotrensis), which inhabits the lakes reed beds, if action isn't taken.

"This species is probably the carnivore with one of the smallest ranges in the world, and likely to be one of the most threatened," said Frank Hawkins of Conservation International. "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."







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CITATION:
Rhett A. Butler, wildmadagascar.org (October 10, 2010). Picture: unknown carnivore discovered in Madagascar lake. http://news.mongabay.com/2010/1010-vontsira_madagascar.html



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