Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose (Galidia elegans)

GenusGalidia (1)
SizeHead-body length: 38 cm (2)
Tail length: 30.5 cm (2)
Weight700 - 900 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The most common, widespread and regularly encountered native carnivore of Madagascar is easily recognised by its bushy, ringed tail after which it is named (3). The Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose is the size and shape of a typical mongoose, with a low-slung body, short legs, small, pointed head and rounded ears (3) (4). The pads of its feet are large, smooth and hairless providing it with uncommon arboreal agility. Its coat is generally russet-chestnut in colour with the exception of the head, throat and chest which tend to be olive tinged, the feet and legs which are sometimes brown or black and the four to six alternate black bands ringing the tail (2) (3). Three subspecies are recognised on the basis of slight variation in colouration and geographical range (3).

Endemic to Madagascar, the three subspecies, Galidia elegans elegans, G. e. dambrensis and G. e. occidentalis occur in the north, east and central-west of the island respectively (3).

The Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose inhabits moist and dry forests from sea-level to around 2,000 metres, but is most abundant in forests below 1,500 metres (2) (3).

The Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose is less sociable than most mongooses, being found alone or in small family groups of up to five. It is mostly diurnal and, while it spends the bulk of its time on the ground, it will also climb trees and vines and even sometimes swim. During the night it will shelter in rapidly dug burrows or in hollow trees. Its diet comprises a wide range of prey from small mammals, birds and eggs to reptiles, frogs, invertebrates and fish (2) (3). In addition, in forests close to human habitation it is not uncommon for these mongooses to prey on domestic chickens (3). Like most mongooses, the Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose has a large anal gland with which it secretes scent on rocks and trees to mark territory (3) (5). Perhaps the most curious trait is the ability to produce a wide range of vocal calls specific to different activities, from cat like ‘miaows’ when capturing prey to alarm-raising moans and grunts (3).

Mating occurs between April to November, with a single young born following a gestation period of little under three months. New born infants resemble miniature adults with full fur and colouration, but weigh only 50 grams and do not take their first steps for almost two weeks. Young reach physical maturity after a year and sexual maturity another 6 to 12 months later, at which point they separate from their parents (2) (3). It is not known how long this species lives in the wild but in captivity one Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose lived for 24 years (2).

Despite still being fairly widespread, the Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose has suffered a suspected decline of over 20 percent in the last ten years (1). This is primarily a result of habitat loss associated with forest clearance for firewood, charcoal and agriculture (1) (6). It is thought that the extent of this habitat destruction has caused Malagasy mongooses to become the most vulnerable of all mongoose species in the world (5). The predicament for the Malagasy ring-tailed mongoose is thought to be under additional pressure from increased competition with the non-native small Indian civet, and feral cats and dogs (1).

In the 150 million years since Madagascar split from the African mainland it has become a hot spot for biodiversity, with 98 percent of its land mammals occurring nowhere else on earth (6). Given the threat posed by habitat destruction to Madagascar’s rich but fragile ecosystem, a number of international organisations including the WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust are actively involved in conservation projects throughout the country. This includes working with the local government to expand protected areas to ensure Madagascar’s unique biodiversity, of which the ring-tailed mongoose is part, is safeguarded for the future (6) (7) (8) (9).

For further information on conservation in Madagascar see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)