Durrell’s Vontsira, Salanoia durrelli

Durrell’s vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) is a carnivorous mammal that is native to Madagascar. It makes up the genus Salanoia along with its closest relative, the brown-tailed mongoose, although their similarities are merely genetic. This mammal has a small range, occurring only in Lac Alaotra, a marshy area that reaches an elevation of 2460 feet.

First discovered in 2004, by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Durrell’s vontsira was not given species status until 2010. After the first individual was found swimming, possibly frightened by the humans conducting a study on the bamboo of the area, it was captured and photographed, and then released. The photograph was not enough to classify the animal within the Malagasy family of carnivores (Eupleridae) and so two more individuals were captured in 2005. Conservationist Joanna Durbin published a paper in 2010 giving the mammal species status, alongside a team of scientists from organizations including Conservation International, the DWCT, Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance,  Nature Heritage, and the Natural History Museum.

Durrell’s vontsira was named after Gerald Durrell, the conservationist who created DWCT. Before its discovery, villagers near Alaotra reported sightings of an unknown mammal within the marsh, which experts suggested could be closely related to the brown-tailed mongoose. Although genetic testing proved a close relationship between the two species, the physical similarities between them were not nearly as strong. Scientists decided to keep the two separate as Durrell’s vontsira most likely adapted into a marsh dwelling species that cannot be found elsewhere.

Durrell’s vontsiras are thought to be small in stature, and the only two individuals that have been weighed were 21 and 24 ounces. The holotype specimen, the first ever studied, was the larger of the two, a female who reached a body length of 12.2 inches, with a tail length of 8.3 inches. The male, who weighed less than the female, has a body length of 13 inches, with a tail length of 6.9 inches.

The long, silky fur of Durrell’s vontsira is mostly burnished red, with small spots appearing on the nape and neck. The underbelly is reddish or tan in color, as well as the inner sides of the ears. Both specimens studied displayed noticeable paw pads on naked feet, with long, dark brown claws. The skull of Durrell’s vontsira mostly resembles that of the brown-tailed mongoose, except that the frontal area is wider, as well as the roof of the mouth. The teeth also differ significantly from those of the brown-tailed mongoose, by having a structure that allows for consumption of hard-shelled prey like mollusks.

The small range of Durrell’s vontsira, comprising its only habitat, is under threat from overfishing, farming practices, pollution, and introduced species. Due to a lack of vital information, Durrell’s vontsira has not yet been given a conservation status, although efforts have been made to conserve the protected marsh area where it occurs.

Image CAption: Salanoia durrelli. Credit: Fidimalala Bruno Ralainasolo, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust/Wikipedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)