For 20 years the Madagascar pochard was thought to be extinct. But their sudden re-discovery in 2006 changed everything and now WWT is closer than ever to re-introducing the world’s rarest duck into the wild.

The next vital step is being taken at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, NOT with Madagascar pochards, but with their close cousins – tufted ducks. This August we’ll release tufted ducks into the world’s first known floating aviary to trial a release method that could be used in Madagascar as early as next year.

No attempt to reintroduce a diving duck species has ever been successful. With the stakes so high, our aviculturists have had to come up with a novel solution.

The floating aviary concept adapts the design of a fish-rearing cage, usually seen on Scottish sea lochs. The large contraption will give the ducks, which feed underwater, a safe space to get used to their new surroundings.

In Madagascar, it is crucial that the ducks feel safe and stay on the lake where they will be released. If they don’t, their chances of survival are slim.

Devastated by deforestation, Madagascar’s wetlands have shrunk by 60% and the remaining lakes are polluted and over-fished. It has taken years of scouring the country to identify just one suitable habitat – Lake Sofia - where Madagascar pochards could potentially survive in the wild.

When our conservationists discovered Lake Sofia in 2011, it was far from the perfect condition. Tens of thousands of people rely on it for water, irrigation, fish and materials. It is important to balance these needs with our long-term mission to improve the state of the lake enough that it was suitable as a new home for the pochard.

Our experts worked with authorities, local communities and a development agency to engage the communities in a more sustainable plan for the area. We have worked alongside them to improve farming and fishing methods on Lake Sofia to be more productive, while having less impact on the environment.

By driving these projects, the lake should be ready for the release of the Madagascar pochards in autumn 2018.

Although our work in Madagascar is far from over, our efforts to lead the recovery of this Critically Endangered species, along with our partners Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, extend to our long term commitment to the restoration of wetlands across the island. A snapshot of some our successes:

  • 100 farmers (covering every village in the catchment) are piloting sustainable rice farming techniques.
  • Pesticide use in these pilots has reduced by 98%.
  • In the first year of the pilots rice yield increased threefold.
  • Training on these techniques has also been given more widely and surveys suggest the number of households using pesticides has fallen by nearly a quarter across the whole catchment.
  • We’ve introduced new crops to improve nutrition and make incomes and livelihoods safer – 180 farmers have trialled growing Artemisia (a high-value ingredient of anti-malarial drugs), 67 farmers have planted clove seedlings, and small nurseries for jackfruit trees have been established.
  • We’ve built a boat landing platform at Lake Sofia to give fishers safe access to the lake where it won’t disturb other areas of natural marsh.
  • 70% of fishers are now using legal nets and the remaining 30% will exchange any illegal gear soon.
  • Fishers, market sellers, and consumers all report that fish size has increased.
  • Initial fisher surveys suggest a more than 2.5 fold increase in daily income. Come visit Slimbridge and support this project today.  

This is all part of Mission Madagasgar. Find out how you can help save the world's rarest duck and much more.

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.