The Madagascar pochard – arguably the world’s rarest bird – has bred successfully in captivity building hope that it can be saved from extinction.
Eighteen precious pochard ducklings are being reared at a specially built centre in Antsohihy, Madagascar, opened last year by Dr Lee Durrell. The birth of the ducklings is a key milestone in the conservation of the species, including an emergency expedition two years ago to take eggs into captivity. It is the ducks from those eggs that have now bred for the first time.
The pochard breeding programme is part of a joint project to save the bird by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar and the Government of Madagascar.
Dr Glyn Young, a conservation biologist with Durrell, has spent much of his life studying the Madagascar pochard. He said: “The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction. Seven years ago, people thought this bird was already extinct and yet the discovery of one small population and now the arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again.”
The pochard was believed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 2006 on a single small lake, Lake Matsaborimena (or Red Lake), in northern Madagascar. Numbering just 22 birds, the ducks remain extremely vulnerable to extinction from a single event such as pollution or a disease outbreak.
In order to restore the species to suitable wetlands within its former range across the high plateau region of Madagascar, scientists are studying the remaining wild population to understand the reasons behind the species’ decline and to determine the right conditions for releasing birds. Particularly worrying is that the wild birds appear to have very low breeding success.
Peter Cranswick, Head of Species Recovery at WWT said: “Although Lake Matsaborimena is the last hiding place for the ducks, it is far from ideal as a habitat. Our initial investigations suggest there is too little food and this may be leading to the low survival of the ducklings; in effect, they are starving to death.
“We have identified some lakes where the physical conditions are potentially right for the pochard, but success will depend on support of the local community. Fishing is thought to be one factor that led to the pochard’s decline but many rural Malagasy people earn their livelihood from fishing. The challenge is to find a solution that helps both the people and the birds.”
In addition to the breeding centre where the ducklings are being reared, a major facility will be developed this year where young birds will be trained prior to release into the wild. Malagasy conservationists are learning the skills needed to breed and rear pochards.
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Notes to editors
The Madagascar pochard:
The pochard was previously thought to be extinct. The Peregrine Fund discovered a small number at a lake near Bemanevika in 2006 during fieldwork for Madagascar harrier, another rare species of bird.
The pochards are known as fotsimaso (pronounced foots-mass) in the local Malagasy dialect – this means ‘white eye’.
2011 was the 25th anniversary of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust’s work in Madagascar. Lee Durrell, Honorary Director of the Trust and widow of naturalist Gerald Durrell, said on opening the rearing centre: “When we start a project, we’re in it for the long term. After 25 years of breeding one of the rarest tortoises in the world, the ploughshare tortoise, we’re now releasing captive-bred animals into their natural habitat and they’re doing well. Challenges such as restoring the Madagascar pochard to the wild are what Durrell is all about, and we are looking forward to the next 25 successful years in Madagascar.”
‘Saving the Madagascar pochard’ 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, WWT and Durrell members.
To support the project visit the WWT and Durrell websites.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an international charity working globally to save species from extinction. Headquartered in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, Durrell focuses on the most threatened species in the most threatened places.
Durrell’s philosophy emphasises the need for our three core conservation pillars to work together: a wildlife park in Jersey as a centre of animal husbandry and knowledge, disciplined management of conservation programmes in the field and an International Training Centre to build conservation capacity. Durrell’s belief is that lasting and effective wildlife conservation can be achieved where these three components are in harmony.
Durrell makes a difference
Our pioneering and dedicated approach has saved some of the world’s most threatened species, many of which are now on the road to recovery.
Durrell is dedicated
Conservation only achieves results through dedicated leadership and with a track record of over 50 years we lead some of the world’s longest-running and successful endangered species recovery programmes.
Durrell is pioneering
Though our approach of long-term field projects, training conservation leaders, empowering local communities and specialised captive husbandry and breeding; we save some of the most threatened species in the most threatened places on earth.
Durrell’s work is vital
With the natural world facing unprecedented pressures which threaten wildlife and people, Durrell’s conservation work is more vital than ever before.
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)
• WWT saves wetlands worldwide – a critical habitat which is disappearing at an alarming rate. We act to identify and save severely threatened wildlife, such as the Madagascar pochard, which has been given a more secure future thanks to our decades of experience in conservation breeding.
• Our researchers have been monitoring wildlife in the UK for more than 60 years, observing changes and finding solutions.
• We put people at the heart of all our work, because conservation needs support to succeed.
• And we share what we learn with experts around the world and with our 200,000+ members, the 60,000 school children who come on an educational visit to our nine wetland visitor centres in the UK, and the million people who visit us each year to enjoy a wetland experience.
• We manage over 2,600 hectares of wetlands across the UK which between them support over 200,000 waterbirds and other wildlife.
• WWT members enjoy free access to all nine visitor centres and are kept up to date with developments through an award-winning quarterly magazine, Waterlife.