The Madagascar pochard is endemic to Madagascar and in the 1930s was reported as "locally common" in the Alaotran basin. Massive loss of wetland habitat as well as over-hunting is causing the decline of many wetland birds including the Madagascar pochard. The last individual seen in over 30 years is recorded.
A single male Madagascar pochard, the first seen in 30 years, is captured by fisherman in Lake Alaotra and is thought to be the last of its kind in the world. Despite intensive surveys in the surrounding areas, no more surviving pochards are found. Two years after being captured, the male dies in captivity and it is feared that the species is now extinct.
For more than a year, Durrell worked with partners to conduct surveys which extended into areas beyond the Lake Alaotra basin, but despite these intensive efforts not a single Madagascar pochard was detected. Later, the IUCN Red List assessed the species as extinct and any hope of recovering the species faded.
Staff from The Peregrine Fund discover a few living Madagascar pochards whilst surveying an isolated volcanic crater lake in Northern Madagascar. They immediately request assistance from Durrell staff who confirm a population of 25 surviving pochard, making it the rarest duck in the world. Conservation measures to protect the species are immediately explored.
With such a small population surviving at one threatened site, a captive breeding programme is essential in protecting the future of this species. Durrell work with WWT and Malagasy government partners to recover three clutches of eggs from wild nests. In total 23 ducklings are hatched and raised to form the first viable captive population for the species.
The first Madagascar pochard duckling to be bred in captivity hatches at a new purpose-built captive breeding facility in Madagascar. A total of 18 ducklings are hatched during the year increasing the global population of Madagascar pochard by 35%. With a safety-net population secured, planning the future restoration of the species in the wild is the priority.
Despite efforts from the authorities and The Peregrine Fund to protect the species by declaring the breeding lake a New Protected Area, monitoring reveals the remaining 29 adult pochard failed to fledge any chicks this year. To ensure the recovery of this tiny population, further research is required to determine what factors are limiting breeding success in the wild.
In total 26 wetland sites were surveyed across the Madagascar pochard's historical range and nearly all lakes were found to be severely degraded and unsustainably used by people. Fortunately, a promising release site was found at Lake Sofia and consultations have started with local communities to begin planning the large-scale restoration work required.
A lack of benthic invertebrates and high siltation levels in shallow areas of the lake mean ducklings are starving before they can fledge and fly to better feeding habitat. Hunting is also identified as a potential threat and the presence of a site-based field team of researchers at the lake will enhance protection of the birds.
Through careful management and effective husbandry of the captive birds, a total of 38 ducklings have been hatched in captivity since the original wild eggs were collected in 2009. The success of the captive breeding programme means future releases of Madagascar pochard to establish additional sub-populations and reduce the risk of extinction can be considered.
The plan is developed during a workshop guiding the future conservation of the species. Objectives include restoration of a future release site and trialling releases of captive-bred birds to establish a second population in the wild. Local people will be engaged to ensure that wetland restoration work will benefit communities as well as the Madagascar pochard and other wildlife.