The cat-sized, speckled brown mammal belongs to a family of mongoose-like animals found only in Madagascar and is probably one of the most threatened carnivores in the world, 'The Daily Telegraph' reported. The species has been named Durrell's vontsira (Salanoia durrelli) after famous naturalist Gerald Durrell.
It was only found by chance in 2004 after a team from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which was studying other animals for more than ten years by a remote lake in Madagascar, spotted something strange swimming past.
They captured two of the creatures assuming they were brown-tailed vontsira. The female was examined and released back into the wild. Sadly one male specimen died in a trap and was sent back to the Natural History Museum for further study.
After subsequent analysis it was discovered it was the first new species of carnivorous mammal to be discovered in 24 years, say the biologists. Professor John Fa, of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, described the new find as a "scruffy little ferret" that likes to swim in lakes.
Unlike other mongoose, he said the apparently acquatic creature could be more like an otter, surviving on fish and crabs. However little is known about the size of the population or its lifecycle.
"At the moment it is a mystery. What it does tell us is there is a lot more biodiversity in this area that needs to be studied and protected," he said.