In northeastern Madagascar, within a changing landscape, apex predators fight for food, space, power. In one particular section of the rainforest, family, tradition, ambition, and a fierce love for home will be threatened by outside dangers.
“Something new in the forest,” Adala’s ears popped back up.
“We already know about the white not-lemur.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s a light-spitting rock growing on a tree!”
As her daughter’s daughter, Soa deserved Nenibe’s territory. And she was going to get it.
Feeling calmer at that resolution, Soa stopped grooming. “I suppose we’ll see what happens at Tree-Gathering. It should be interesting.”
“Yes, very. Are we finished here, Soakely?”
“Yes.” For now.
Joko sighed and grabbed the tree. He gave it a brief grazing and then turned to his brother. “There. We marked. Now can we get back to hunting? I’m starving.”
Loza nodded, his tail high with pride. “Our first night of marking, our first lemur hunt. Joko, we’ll remember this night as the night it all started, once we’re kings of this forest.”
“We need to find a new territory.”
After a long search, Hinjitra had found his brother resting in the middle canopy on a thick branch, basking in the sun threading through the gold-green canopy. Menabe’s eyes, which had lazily tracked Hinjitra’s progress up the tree, remained half closed at the proclamation.
“Why?” Menabe let out a big yawn, showing off sharp white teeth.
“The not-lemurs are marking this forest as their own and they do not share the forest. Not with us.”
Menabe’s tail twitched. “Of all the fosa… I would not have expected my own brother to become flighty because of something Adala said.”
Hinjitra unsheathed his claws, dug at the soft bark of the tree’s branch. “You saw the new tree rocks. Don’t act as if this is just one of his fantasies.”
“You saw them as well. And what did they do? Spit light, make a faint clicking noise, and…?”
“You never knew how to see the big picture, Menabe.” A growl slipped into Hinjitra’s words. “The forest is losing its trees. There are not-lemur trails in areas where not-lemurs never went before. Their death vines litter the forest edge1. The white not-lemur’s appearance was a sign. This used to be our forest, but they are marking their territory, as clearly as if they were leaving their scent on the trees. We need to leave. We need to find a new territory, deeper in the forest. We’re strong enough to displace any males in our way.”
Hinjitra didn’t snort at that sentence, although he wanted to. They weren’t strong enough; he was. He had a few pounds and critical inches on his older brother, a stronger bite, a heavier cuff. And yet, when it came time for Tree Gathering, it was always Menabe that was favored among the females.
Not for the first time, he eyed his brother, wishing he could leave. But the world was particularly harsh for a male without an ally. He had seen the males who had lost their ally, or never had a brother. They were weak, the size of a female. Hinjitra had only gained his strength and size because Menabe was around to help with hunting2. Their relationship was beneficial.
At least, it had been.
Menabe’s eyes were no longer half-closed. They were wide open, blazing. “No, Hinjitra. You do not see the big picture. Don’t you remember? How the brothers we defeated spat at us as they left, saying this forest was worthless, that we would die out here. We almost did, because they ate this forest up, the greedy bastards3. The nights we almost starved, how we lived off tenrecs and frogs so that the lemurs would come back. And now, what do you see? There are so many lemurs here that you cannot sniff a tree without being hooted at. Females are fighting each other to live within our boundaries; males are trying to work up their courage to attempt a take over. We made this forest. And we are not leaving it.”
Hinjitra’s left foreleg tensed and he fought not to cuff some sense into his brother, knock him from his perch. Menabe had seen the potential in their new home, a dead forest at the end of a series of losing fights after they had left their mother’s territory. His brother’s vision had been magical. Even on the darkest days, his brother had been confident to the point of stubbornness that he was steering them right.
And he had steered them right.
But eating tenrecs and frogs4 wouldn’t keep the not-lemurs from creeping in. Menabe’s stubbornness, which had created a paradise, was blinding him to reality. And that same stubbornness was going to get them killed.
Hinjitra didn’t want to leave his brother. But if Menabe wouldn’t listen, he would.
“I’m going hunting,” Hinjitra said, standing.
Menabe nodded, and half-closed his eyes again.
Hinjitra walked to the trunk, and then stopped without turning around. “I forgot to mention. Adala is dead5.”
There was a pause. Then: “How?”
Hinjitra looked over his shoulder. “One of the not-lemur’s death vines. I saw him dangling above a trail this morning.”
Menabe was quiet, his flattened ears the only sign he had heard. Hinjitra left his brother staring into the middle distance.
Milamihinana (or Mila, as she preferred to be called) could smell the other fosa as she came down the steep trail. The smell sent her brown fur bristling with excitement, her blood jumping in her veins. She held her whiskers and ears forward. Her first Tree Gathering! After this, she would be a true adult. Within a few months, she would be a mother6.
The thought of her first litter sent her mind reeling down a trail of hopes. She hoped that her territory was plentiful enough for her to provide for her pups.
She hoped that their fathers would be the strongest, the smartest, the fastest. She hoped that they would fight over her…
She skidded to a stop on the trail, pausing to lick down the fur on her chest and belly. The fear that her fur would suddenly be stained a male orange-red was strong. But, just as it was this morning, her fur was a beautiful pale brown. There was no chance she’d be mistaken for a male like she had been for the past two years. Not that she had minded it at the time. Being able to avoid the jealous fury of adult females and the aggressive attentions of males was useful when one was a young fosa trying to make your way in the world7.
But now she wanted to be seen as a mature female. She was a mature female. And she wanted to be a mother.
Soon. Soon, I’ll be a mother.
She began walking down the trail again, measuring her steps to portray confidence. The sounds of the other fosa were drowned out by the rush of a nearby waterfall.
After greeting the fosa at the trail junction—all four of which were males—with raised tail and perked ears, Mila looked up at the mating tree. Shooting straight up from the sloping ground, it was as thick as ten trees pressed together. Large, comfortable branches sprouted out from the trunk, arcing above their heads. It was one of the biggest trees she had ever seen in her life8.
She began to walk around the tree, her paws pressing into the springy ground. The bark was a silky gray white, threaded through with a dirty moss green. Her heart began to pound. Her first Tree Gathering. Soon she’d be up in that tree, looking down as the males fought for the chance to court her. She searched for a branch that was the perfect thickness: just thick enough to hold two fosa, but thin enough that she could escape from a male that she didn’t favor. She wondered where the other females were. She wondered if she should climb up. She wanted to go first9.
She finished her walk around the tree. The gathering of fosa had grown by four: two females, one quite old, and two large males. Raising her tail with excitement, she went to go greet the males, but the younger of the two females blocked her.
“Hello. Don’t believe we’ve met…” The female sniffed the air. Her lip curled as if she could still smell the change on Mila. “I’ve smelled you on the edges of my territory, though.”
Mila lowered her tail and fought the urge to lick at her chest again. “I’m Mila. I hope I haven’t crossed any boundaries.”
“I’m Soa,” the female said. “And you have.”
“I only went where there was no scent. In some places, the scent was so old…”
“Soa is terrible at keeping her boundaries fresh, especially when she’s sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.” The older female stepped forward. “I’m Nenibe.”
Mila nodded at Nenibe, trying not to stare. She had never seen such an elderly fosa; she must have seen ten seasons of plenty, at least10. Was she truly expecting to mate?
Mila looked back at Soa, but Soa seemed to deign Mila as unworthy of any more attention. She began to walk towards the mating tree. It was only when she put her paws on the trunk that Mila realized that she meant to climb the tree first. “Wait!”
Soa turned to look at Mila. “What?”
“I…” Mila looked at the gathering. The males were all sitting on their haunches, silent. “Shouldn’t we talk about who gets to climb the tree first? I was…well, I was hoping that I might…”
Soa took her paws off the tree and turned, her ears flat, her eyes boring into Mila’s. “We do not talk about who climbs first.”
“Why not let her go first, Soa?” The question came from one of the males that Mila hadn’t been introduced to, who was now standing.
“Quiet, Menabe!” The male—Menabe—sighed, flickered his ears back and forth, and sat back down. Faint snickers rippled through the gathering, not at the irate female, but at Menabe11.
Soa’s eyes snapped back to Mila. She began to walk, every limb stiff, towards Mila. “We do not talk about who goes up first. I go up first, and I have gone up first since I won that privilege seasons ago. Did you want to contest that? We can.”
The threat was obvious. Mila sat down, crouching, making herself as small as possible. “No. It’s your right, Soa.”
Soa’s bristled fur smoothed down. “Good. Now that that’s settled, we can start.” After twining her tail around Menabe’s, Soa sauntered back to the tree and began to climb. Mila, after a moment, moved to the edge of the clearing to lick vigorously at her chest. Nenibe moved aside as well and lay on her side, her tail twitching and her eyes half closed.
The males—single and allied—came alive now that the females had started the proceedings, whispering amongst each other.
“I think I’ll pass on this one.”
“We should save our energy.”
“Soa’s more experienced, yes, but isn’t she a bit too…old? Mila might be the one to try for…”
The whispers were partly strategy. The males only had so much energy, and this wasn’t the only Gathering they would be going to12. If they could make the others focus on Mila, they could have Soa all to themselves.
But mixed in with strategy, there was truth, and Mila heard enough that she felt the sting of her loss began to ease. She was the one they were waiting for. She was the one they wanted, and she’d have her pick of the gathering.
The males began to vocalize and posture at the others, symbolic attacks before any physical fighting. There was no point in her staying around. Soa would be courted for the next few days and Mila would come back when it was her turn. She stood, holding her head high, and began to walk back up the trail. There was the briefest pause in the proceedings as the males noticed she was leaving, a pause that made her hold her head even higher.
She only turned back once, when she was far enough up the trail to look down on the gathering. She found him, watching those that were first to fight, sizing them up, and, on occasion, looking up the trail where she had walked out. The male that had spoken up for her.
Will Hinjitra be able to change Menabe’s mind about finding a new territory?
Will any of the males want to mate with Nenibe?
Will Soa learn that Mila is favored among the males? And if she does, what will she do?
And what exactly is our two young fosa brothers, Loza and Joko, up to while Tree Gathering occurs? Stay tuned for the next episode of… Fosa Forest!