Hope for the World’s Rarest Bird
Conservation success for the Madagascar pochard
Photo by Amy MacAndrews (Flickr)
by Mairi-Netta Young
Following 15 years of no sightings, the endemic Madagascar pochard was declared extinct in the late 1990s. In 2006, however, researchers from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust rediscovered a small group of the species, living on a remote lake. Believed to be the last remaining individuals, immediate conservation action was taken. An international team, which included Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, WWT, The Peregrine Fund and the Government of Madagascar, removed the only remaining clutch of pochard eggs to be reared in captivity.
Following the success of the captive breeding programme, and the birth of over 100 pochard chicks, the team turned their attention to the next stage of the conservation effort; release into the wild.
The logistics of this process, however, proved to be incredibly difficult. Besides working in the most remote part of Madagascar – where access to the lakes by vehicle is only possible for three months a year, the ecological requirements of the duck also provided further hurdles. Extensive local rice growing, deforestation and predatory fish introductions severally minimised potential release sites.
In 2017, Lake Sofia - in the north of the country, was identified as probable site. Captive-reared chicks were transported 124 miles, where they were released into Scottish salmon-farming cages – acting as the world’s first floating aviaries.
After one week within the aviaries and researchers were confident that they were adapting to their surroundings, the team released the ducks into the wild - for the first time in over a decade.
Conservation efforts remain ongoing in order to ensure the ducks’ survival; improving the environment and ensuring the ducks are fully established in their new home.
Most importantly, the team continues to work alongside the local inhabitants who will, essentially, play a pivotal role in the species’ future. Nigel Jarrett, head of conservation breeding at the WWT, said: "It takes a village to raise a child, so the old African proverb goes, but in this case, it has taken a village to raise a duck.”
Nevertheless, the event has been caused for celebration for all the researchers involved. Dr Glyn Young, conservation biologist and head of birds at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: "The idea that we could be releasing pochards into the wild only 12 years after rediscovery pays remarkable testament to the dreams and hard work of many people from Madagascar, Jersey and the UK, who have worked tirelessly to see this remarkable bird get a chance of survival in a changing world."
The success story of the Madagascar pochard marks an incredibly important time for conservation efforts around the world. From supposed extinction to successful release into the wild; the world’s rarest duck reminds us of the potential that conservation has - and brings 2018 to a very optimistic end.