The discovery, announced in the latest issue
of the taxonomic journal Systematics and Biodiversity, was made by researchers from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Natural History Museum, London, Nature Heritage, Jersey, and Conservation International.
The future of the species is uncertain since the marshes in which it lives is under threat from agricultural expansion. Its conservation status is yet to be formally evaluated. It is likely to be Threatened as per IUCN norms since the population size is small, the distribution is restricted, and the habitat is under severe threat. Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot, with seven families of plants and 15 families of vertebrate animals that live nowhere else on Earth.
The carnivore was first seen swimming in a lake by researchers who were on a field trip surveying bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis
) in 2004. They took photographs and matched it them with specimens of the brown-tailed vontsira (Salanoia concolor
) in the Natural History Museum’s collections. Zoologists concurred that it was a species new to science. It was named after conservationist Gerald Durrell, who died 15 years ago.
Fidimalala Bruno Ralainasolo, a conservation biologist working for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust who originally captured the new carnivore, said, “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.”