Plan to save world's rarest duck successfully hatched
A complicated and challenging mission to a remote lake in Madagascar has resulted in a huge step being taken in efforts to save the world’s rarest duck from extinction.
A collaborative team of specialists were hampered by electrical storms, gruelling journeys and illness in their bid to secure a precious batch of eggs laid by the Critically Endangered Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) in early October.
The pochard, a medium-sized diving duck, was feared extinct by the late 1990s but it was rediscovered in 2006 when biologists from The Peregrine Fund, who were scouting for a threatened bird of prey, the Madagascar Harrier, observed 20 adult pochards living on a single lake in northern Madagascar.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), The Peregrine Fund and the Government of Madagascar joined efforts to establish a conservation-breeding programme for the ducks, with the hope of reintroducing them back into their wetland habitats.
However, an emergency rescue plan was mounted after a reconnaissance visit in July revealed the situation was worse than feared – with the sighting of just six females and evidence that the young had died just a few weeks old.
As a result, members of the team monitored the tiny population during their breeding season, reporting that three female birds were preparing to lay eggs. A team of duck specialists from WWT and Durrell immediately flew to Madagascar in an attempt to bring the eggs into captivity.
Patience was becoming a required skill, as Dr Glyn Young from Durrell describes; “It was a race against time to get the team and the equipment to the lake before eggs started hatching. The situation was not made any easier as massive electrical storms had delayed our arrival in the country. Once all the equipment had cleared Customs, we had to wait for three days as a bridge was repaired on the only access road to the lake. To add to our woes, having finally made it to the lake, we all fell ill!”
Having commandeered part of a local hotel in order to create a temporary breeding facility, a batch of eggs was removed from a lake-side nest as near to hatching as possible. With extreme care, the day-old ducklings were transported to their make-shift rearing facility, 12 hours away.
Peter Cranswick from WWT describes the significance of this achievement, “This is conservation at the cutting edge. The urgency of the situation has meant a great deal of invention and improvisation – but next year simply may have been too late. Safely bringing birds into captivity marks the start of a 20- or 30-year conservation project that will also help restore wetlands across the region.”
Eight ducklings are now reported to be doing very well, but work continues as the team attempts to secure two more clutches from the wild over the next few weeks. However, this collaborative rescue mission has provided hope for the future for the Madagascar pochard.
“This is the first important step toward saving this rare species from extinction,” said Russell Thorstrom, a biologist in charge of The Peregrine Fund’s Madagascar program. “It shows how organizations working cooperatively can overcome challenges and continue onward in their conservation effort for this critically endangered duck.”
Posted 4 November 2009