The Madagascar pochard is probably the world’s rarest bird. Endemic to Madagascar, it is now found at just one small group of lakes in the north of the country, where it teeters on the brink of extinction.
This is all part of Mission Madagasgar. Find out how you can help save the world's rarest duck and much more.
Madagascar’s wetlands at crisis point
Few places on earth can rival the scale of wetland destruction witnessed in Madagascar. In the latter half of the 20th century, approximately 60% of Madagascar’s wetlands were lost.
Extensive studies of Madagascar’s central plateau have revealed that every wetland is affected by deforestation, erosion and pollution. Slash-and-burn agriculture on a massive scale, over-fishing of lakes and rivers and a surge in invasive plant and animal species has caused widespread degradation of Madagascar’s once-flourishing habitat, and these threats show no signs of stopping.
The situation has been catastrophic for Madagascar’s wetland wildlife. And it’s not just wildlife like the pochard that is affected. Madagascar is the world’s ninth poorest nation, and its people’s survival is reliant on basic farming and the natural resources around them. In this situation, environmental damage and poverty are intrinsically linked.
The Madagascar pochard
It all started with the world’s rarest duck: the Madagascar pochard. Until recently, it was believed extinct, the last sighting having been in 1991. In November 2006, against all expectation, staff from the Peregrine Fund (TPF) rediscovered the 13 birds on a small wetland – ‘red lake’ – near Bemanevika, 300 km north of the last known site.
We surveyed lakes in the surrounding region but found no more pochards. It appears that the entire world population consists of just 20-25 birds, restricted to a single site.
But ‘red lake’ is far from perfect for the pochards. It is formed from a volcanic crater, and as a result the depth is too great for the young to dive and feed. Although they breed successfully, the ducklings soon starve and seldom survive beyond their first few weeks.
With the birds in such a perilous position, emergency action was needed immediately. Three clutches of eggs were brought into captivity, buying us time to develop long-term plans to save the species.
How we are helping
There are three phases to the project:
- Prevent imminent extinction of the Madagascar pochard, establish a conservation-breeding programme, and secure protection of red lake
- Find a new home to release captive-bred pochards, understand this wetland and how local people use it, and establish management schemes run by the villagers to safeguard the wetland and address threats to the site
- Restore the wetland habitat, release pochards and ensure long-term sustainable use of the wetland for both people and wildlife.
Saving the World’s rarest duck
In the autumn of 2009, with our partners in Madagascar (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, TPF, and the Government of Madagascar), we brought birds into captivity as a ‘safety net’ against the threat of imminent extinction. A conservation-breeding programme was established with the long-term aim of restoring the pochard to some of the areas it used to occupy, by re-introducing captive-bred birds elsewhere in Madagascar.
Project staff maintain a constant presence at the red lake and raise awareness of the pochards locally to ensure protection of the birds. The lakes and surrounding forest have been submitted to the Government for designation as a protected area.
With 75 birds at our breeding facility, we’ve almost quadrupled the world population of the Madagascar pochard. Last year, we began the process of identifying suitable sites for birds to be released into the wild and we chose Lake Sofia, just over 50 km from red lake.
The next step – restoring and protecting Lake Sofia
Lake Sofia is the most intact remnant of a once vast wetland complex near Bealanana, but it is not without its problems. Already large areas of marshland have been converted to rice paddies and much of the wildlife has been lost. But there is hope. The villages around the lake already cooperate to try to manage Lake Sofia sustainably.
With a more sustainable management approach, Lake Sofia can be saved from the fate that has affected the rest of the landscape.
The rare species (including the globally Endangered Meller’s duck and Vulnerable Madagascar grebe) that remain there can be saved, and the 10,000 people who depend on the lake and its tributary can have a future that isn’t based on purchasing expensive fertilisers and pesticides and paying to stock the lake with imported fish.
We will work with the villagers to understand their needs and develop a sustainable co-management system, run by the villagers, for the lake and its catchment. This will ensure sustainable practices – for fishing, agriculture, for use of the marshes – and restore the surrounding vegetation, which will create a healthy wetland that can support newly-release pochards, other threatened wildlife and the local communities.
Be part of Mission Madagascar
We need vital funds for the next step of the project. If we succeed, we will restore and protect Lake Sofia for the Madagascar pochard, and create a wetland habitat in which other endangered species, wildlife and people can thrive.
This could be a blueprint for communities and governments, wherever there are wetlands in peril across Madagascar and beyond.
To find out how you can support find out about Mission Madagascar
This is a collaborative project of WWT, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar, and the Government of Madagascar.
To date the project has been generously supported by: the Darwin Initiative, Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa, Fota Wildlife Park, BBC Wildlife Fund, a private donor, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Aviornis UK, Synchronicity Earth, British Airways Communities & Conservation Programme (BACC), WWT and Durrell members and many generous individuals.