Madagascar's unique ecosystem
Madagascar is unusual in that it is home to a long list of species that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet. Many species evolved in unique ways because some of the usual species found around the world are absent in Madagascar– for example, the fossa was able to develop because of the absence of big cats. This situation has largely arisen from Madagascar’s geographic isolation.
Madagascar’s unique habitats and stunning species make it a jewel in biodiversity terms.
But few places on earth rival the scale of environmental destruction witnessed by communities there. Deforestation, overfishing and pollution are the key environmental issues and it’s estimated that 60% of the country’s wetlands and 80% of forests have been destroyed in the last 60 years.
What we are doing
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest nations with many of its people heavily reliant on the natural resources around them for their day-to-day survival.
As their wetland environment has been destroyed, so too has their means of making a living. In Madagascar, environmental damage and poverty are intrinsically linked.
WWT is lifting communities out of poverty by working with them to develop more sustainable ways of managing their natural environment.
From education and training, to securing land rights and encouraging more sustainable and diverse agricultural practices, we’re ensuring people have the knowledge and skills they need to be more resilient.
We’re helping build a future where Madagascar’s wetlands and wildlife are protected and thriving and people’s livelihoods are secure.
We are also working across the country to help manage wetlands better, creating a national network of wetland managers and providing them with the skills and tools they need to do the job. We are also working with government and civil society to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of healthy, functioning wetlands.
One of our key sites in Madagascar is Lake Sofia and within the space of a few years the results have been dramatic.
- Nearly 1,000 people have joined community based management associations
- We now have 450 farmers involved in sustainable rice schemes. Since the introduction of sustainable rice farming techniques, rice yields increased by 300%
- 100% of fishers now use legal nets and initial surveys suggest their daily income has increased more than two-fold
- Surveys suggest there’s been an 80% reduction in the use of pesticides across the whole catchment
- 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
Saving the world’s rarest duck: the Madagascar pochard
It is at Lake Sofia where we hope to make a home for the Madagascar pochard, the world’s most endangered duck.
Once found right across Madagascar’s central plateau it now teeters on the brink of extinction – just one example of the wildlife under threat. So, when a small group were discovered on a remote lake in northern Madagascar, we knew we had to act fast.
WWT experts quickly set up an emergency conservation breeding programme and it’s been so successful, the captive population has effectively quadrupled the world population.
Pioneering floating aviary
We’ve never tried to release a diving duck into a new habitat before. So we used innovative floating aviaries to release 21 Madagascar pochards onto Lake Sofia. It’s an historic moment over 10 years in the making, and the work doesn't stop here. Having given them the best chance of survival in this challenging landscape, we’ll be closely monitoring their progress.
Our work in Madagascar so far...
25 Madagascar pochards are found surviving on a remote lake in the north of the island that we suspect is too deep for ducklings to feed.
Surveys show only 6 females survive at the lake.
Eggs are brought into captivity to protect against extinction.
We scour the island for a suitable release site and choose to focus our efforts on Lake Sofia. The site has potential, but we have many issues to address before the lake can be a suitable home for the pochards.
We conduct surveys to understand the needs of the ten thousand people that live around and rely on Lake Sofia for water, irrigation, fish, materials and other resources.
We receive enthusiastic support from authorities, communities, and a development agency to improve the lake, addressing poverty and environmental damage. Education plans are developed to build awareness of and pride in their natural surroundings.
We invented the world’s first floating aviary and tested it at Slimbridge using Baer’s pochards and tufted ducks, close cousins of the Madagascar pochard.
July - Floating aviaries are installed in Madagascar ahead of planned release.
October - Pochards transported to lakeside where they’re homed in temporary aviaries and trained.
December - First chicks released onto Lake Sofia.
Partners and funders
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.