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World’s rarest bird reintroduced to the wild

There are now a disturbing number of avian species on the brink of extinction. Once common birds are heading for disaster at an alarming rate and often slip into the danger zone unnoticed. For instance, it wasn’t so long ago that the Madagascan pochard duck could be seen across the country’s wetlands. But agricultural and fishing practices seriously impacted the birds. By 1991, they were thought to be extinct.

A fabulous discovery

Fifteen years later, a small group of pochards were unexpectedly discovered living on a remote lake. Conservationists then began a project to save the birds. The surviving population had been pushed out of its native habitat and were living on a volcanic lake that was too cold and too deep for them. Pochards feed by diving but there were no shallows for the youngers to feed in. Most were dying within weeks of hatching.

Captive breeding program for pochards

Eggs were collected in the wild and the resulting ducks reared in captivity. 114 ducks were successfully raised. In order to release them into the wild, it was necessary to find a place in which they were likely to thrive and that proved difficult. Freshwater biodiversity in Madagascar had been ruined by agriculture and the non-native fish species introduced for farming. Tilapia were busy eating the invertebrates that pochards favour, making it hard for the birds to find any food.

A new home for endangered ducks

Finally, experts from the government of Madagascar and three conservation groups—, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Peregrine Fund—decided Lake Sofia in the north of the country could provide a suitable habitat for the captively-bred pochards. The condition of the lake was improved by the conservationists and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust collaborated with local people to encourage better farming and fishing practices.

Acclimatising the birds

The birds had a new home but needed to be acclimatised to it. As the sucks spend most of their lives on water, floating aviaries were created for them. Ducklings were reared in lakeside pens before being transferred to the aviaries shortly before they were able to fly. The aviaries protected the youngsters from predators and gave them time to get used to life on the lake. Feeding stations were installed to ensure that the birds would stay in the area and not stray elsewhere.

Happily, the young ducks have been adapting well to their new habitat. They have been diving for food and flying over the lake before returning to the safety of the aviaries to feed and roost.

Experts are keen for the reintroduction program to succeed as this would not only ensure a future for the pochard, it would also encourage the regeneration of other wetlands in Madagascar.
Conservationists believe that it is possible for biodiversity to be restored without negatively affecting the communities which depend on the lakes for an income and food.


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