Low population density of a tropical forest carnivore, Cryptoprocta ferox: implications for protected area management

Clare E. Hawkins a1p1 and Paul A. Racey a1c1
a1 School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK

Article author query
hawkins ce   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
racey pa   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


The widespread geographical distributions of mammalian carnivores such as the Carnivora and the Dasyuridae have often been erroneously equated with abundance. Their low densities and high demands on habitat area can render mammalian carnivores especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and destruction. The fossa Cryptoprocta ferox (Viverridae) is a mammalian carnivore threatened by the rapid loss of Madagascar's forests, to which it is endemic. A 3-year mark-recapture study, comprising four censuses, generated an estimate of fossa population density at 0.18 adults km−2, or 0.26 individuals km−2. This was supported by a similar estimate from home range data. The fossa is thought to be unusually common in the study area, yet the estimated density was lower than that predicted for a typical tropical carnivorous mammal of the body mass of a fossa. Ecologists are frequently under pressure to provide estimates of local and global population numbers of their study species; we discuss the numerous factors that limit our ability to do this on the basis of a single population estimate. Nonetheless, our findings are sufficient to suggest that none of Madagascar's 46 protected areas supports a viable population of fossas, indicating a demand for corridors and enlarged reserves to ensure this species' long-term survival. Loss of the top predator can have a knock-on effect on an ecosystem. The findings indicate that, to maintain intact tropical forest ecosystems, it may be essential to consider the requirements of their often little-known mammalian carnivores. These requirements could be far greater than previously assumed.

(Received February 20 2004)
(Revised June 8 2004)
(Accepted August 13 2004)

Key Words: Carnivore conservation; Cryptoprocta ferox; fossa; habitat fragmentation; Madagascar; mark-recapture; population density; protected areas; tropical.

c1 Correspondence: School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK. E-mail p.racey@abdn.ac.uk
p1 Current address: School of Zoology, Private Bag 05, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia