Malagasy Striped Civets (Fossa fossana): Ringtails Native Only to Madagascar

by DerdriuMarriner

Spots and stripes appear on agile civets with body odor. Malagasy civets indeed have spotted and striped bodies and striped tails. But they lack climbing skills and musky smells.

Civets are supposed to be cat-like carnivores. They can be found among Africa’s and Asia’s native animals. They claim as their homelands continents and islands.

Madagascar counts among the civet’s insular distributions and ranges. Mother Nature generally does things just a bit differently on Venice-born Italian itinerant merchant Marco Polo’s (Sep. 15, 1254 – Jan. 8, 1324) holy island. For example, Malagasy civets only exist natively on Madagascar.

Malagasy civets express such typical civet features as fox-like physiques and mongoose-like limbs. Superficial similarity is the reason for grouping them initially with Asia-based, palm flower sap-drinking, striped civets. Underlying differences nevertheless prompt their re-grouping with 9 carnivorous, extant, Madagascar-only species, all of whom descend from the same ancestor.


Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle scientists Drs. Philippe Gaubert and Géraldine Veron assume for the Malagasy civet’s original ancestor an arrival date of 19,400,000 from a range of 16,500,000 – 22,700,000 years ago. Other specialists attribute to that carnivore’s new homeland:

  • Geological separation from the Indian subcontinent 88,000,000 years ago;
  • Human settlement from Borneo 1,450+ - 1,650+ years ago and from Central and South Africa 1,000+ years ago.

The ten carnivorous species endemic (“native only”) to Madagascar therefore have longstanding interactions with the island’s peoples. But their familiarity to the world’s inhabitants outside the lush South Indian Ocean island country is of shorter duration. For example, the Malagasy civet’s formal presentation to European scientists just traces back to 1776.


Malagasy Civet (Fossa fossana), under synonym of Viverra fossa:

illustration by Jacques de Sève (active 1742 - 1788)
Johann Christian Daniel Schreber, Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur: Plates 81-165 (1774 - 1846), Plate CXIV
Johann Christian Daniel Schreber, Die Säugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur: Plates 81-165 (1774 - 1846), Plate CXIV


The Malagasy civet’s official taxonomy comes from the pen of Philipp Ludwig Statius Müller (April 25, 1725 – January 5, 1776), as:

  • Esens-born citizen at Lower Saxony, northwest Germany;
  • Philosophy and theology student in Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Thuringia, central-east Germany;
  • Professor of Natural Science to the University of Erlangen in Bavaria, southeast Germany, 1754-;
  • Translator of Småland-born Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus’s (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778) Systemae Naturae for German publication as Des Ritters Carl Von Linne Vollstandiges Natursystem, 1773 – 1776.
  • Writer of Supplements- und Register-Band über alle sechs Theile oder Classen des Thierreichs, 1776.

The description focuses upon background colors and banded embellishments. It therefore pinpoints black striping on a black, chestnut, and white-grey specimen.


Range of Malagasy Civet (Fossa fossana)

Distribution data from IUCN Red List
Distribution data from IUCN Red List


Malagasy accommodates Madagascar’s need for a national language. But English and French still act as important spoken and written languages. Malagasy civets thus answer to:

  • Civette de Madagascar, civette fossane, and civette malgache in French;
  • Fanaloka in Malagasy;
  • Fossa fossana in binomial (“two-name”) taxonomy, from the Malagasy word fosa (“cat,” “weasel”);
  • Malagasy civet, Malagasy striped civet, and striped civet in English.

The names defer to bio-geography and physique. Distributional ranges demand access to:

  • Humid littoral, lowland, and mid-altitude forests;
  • Marshes;
  • Streams.

They dominate altitudes from sea level to 3,280.84 – 5,249.34 feet (1,000 – 1,600 meters). They favor:

  • Ambatovaky, Mananara, and Zahamena rainforests;
  • Andohahela and Montagne d’Ambre National Parks;
  • Masoala Peninsula;
  • Sambirano Region.

They reject secondary-growth forests and woodlands.


Malagasy civet faunal synecology: White-headed lemurs (Eulemur albifrons) also occupy Masoala National Park, the island's largest park, in northeastern Madagascar.

White-headed Lemur, Masoala National Park, Madagascar
White-headed Lemur, Masoala National Park, Madagascar


In terms of physique, Malagasy civets have:

  • Alert, pointed, small ears;
  • Big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes whose eye-shine is white-yellow;
  • Cream-white inner-limbs and under-coat;
  • Grey back and head;
  • Grey tail with darkened, incomplete rings from the base to about halfway toward the tip;
  • Grey-beige limbs with dark or light hind-paws, light fore-paws, and spotted or unmarked thighs;
  • Grey-beige upper-coat with 4 black-spotted rows forming discontinuous stripes along each flank.

Supersensory whiskers grace each side of the dark, pointed muzzle. They grow far finer and longer than the dense, short hairs on Malagasy civet coats. They help Malagasy civets to survive just as much as:

  • 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars, and 8 molars;
  • 20 curved, powerful, sharp claws.


Fossa fossana, with alert ears and white-yellow eyeshine

Ranomafana National Park, southeastern Madagascar
Ranomafana National Park, southeastern Madagascar


Mammalogists allow for paired and solitary behaviors within Malagasy civet life cycles and natural histories. Females and males configure overlapping and shared territories. They contact each other by such vocalizations as:

  • Coq-coq when gathered together in groups or pairs;
  • Cries;
  • Groans.

They nocturnally forage as couples or singles for:

  • Bird eggs;
  • Frogs;
  • Fruits;
  • Insects;
  • Reptiles;
  • Tenrecs.

They get ready for the food-scarce, wintery months of June and July by directing ingested food to the tail’s internal storage areas. They keep their forays and hunts focused upon :

  • Bases of boulders, rocks, shrubs, and trees;
  • Ground-level animals and plants.

They leave individual dens around rocks, in hollow trees, and under fallen logs to mate between August and September.


Malagasy Civet's prey: lowland streaked tenrec (Hemicentetes semispinosus)

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park,  Alaotra-Mangoro Region, east central Madagascar
Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Alaotra-Mangoro Region, east central Madagascar


After gestating 82 – 89 days, female Malagasy civets deliver 1 offspring per litter. Fur-covered, open-eyed newborns emerge weighing 2.12 – 2.47 ounces (60 – 70 grams). They gain mobility 3 days later. They handle solid supplements to all-milk diets after the first 4 weeks. Weaning happens within the first 8 – 10 weeks. Year-old offspring leave maternal burrows, crevices, or hollows for single-occupant dens elsewhere. Physical and sexual maturity means for two-year-olds:

  • Head-and-body lengths of 15.75 – 17.72 inches (400 – 450 millimeters);

  • Tail lengths of 8.27 – 9.84 inches (210 – 250 millimeters);

  • Weights of 52.91 – 88.19 ounces (1.5 – 2.5 kilograms).

Females reach slightly longer body measurements. But males represent bulkier, heavier weights.  


Malagasy Civet's southeast coast landscape: Tôlanaro, capital of Anosy Region and of Tôlanaro District:

Area around Tôlanaro abounds in biodiversity and scenic beauty, as well as in commercial interests, such as lobsters and sapphires and now ilmenite.
Tolanaro in 1995
Tolanaro in 1995

Conclusion: Critical importance of eco-tourism and environmentalism in survival of near-threatened Malagasy civets, Madagascar's unique, endemic civets


Change defines the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It derives from:

  • Inquiring minds;

  • Scientific advances;

  • Technological breakthroughs.

But it does not necessarily proceed smoothly. For example, Madagascar's primary-growth cover is 80+% poorer from deforestation by:

  • Agro-industrialists;

  • Exporters;

  • Loggers.

Change leaves the island's endemic civet threatened by:

  • Hunters for pet traders, ritualistic villagers, and traditional physicians;

  • Importers of small Indian civets (Viverra indica) for international perfume-makers.

Malagasy civets currently must compete with introduced civets and elude predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles in fragmented, reduced habitats. But eco-tourism and environmentalism sustain them as much as governmental protection and scientific research. Malagasy civets indeed thank wildlife-lovers through engaging photo ops at bait stations in protected areas and surviving forests.


Adult Viverra schlegeli: competitor to Malagasy Civet and considered as subspecies of Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica) ~

Viverra schlegeli occupy ; occupant of Madagascar and of Mayotte, an archipelago in northern Mozambique Channel between between northwest Madagascar and northeast Mozambique.
F.P.L. Pollen and D.C. van Dam. Recherches sur la faune de Madagascar, 2ème partie (1868), Plate 10, after p. 186
F.P.L. Pollen and D.C. van Dam. Recherches sur la faune de Madagascar, 2ème partie (1868), Plate 10, after p. 186



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Malagasy Civet's native landscape: northern Madagascar's Montagne d'Ambre National Park, a medley of montane rainforest, mid-altitude rainforest, and dry deciduous forest interspersed with crater lakes and waterfalls

Montagne d'Ambre National Park
Montagne d'Ambre National Park

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Malagasy Civet's native landscapes: Montagne d'Ambre National Park, established in 1958 and prized for crater lakes and 3 primary waterfalls

Diana Region, northern Madagascar
Diana Region, northern Madagascar
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Malagasy Civet's human synecology ~ Beach at Fort Dauphin, Tôlanaro, southeastern Madagascar: photo by Michael Runkel

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 12/08/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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