World’s rarest bird released into the wild

Posted: 2nd January, 2019

A duck thought to be extinct for 15 years has been brought back from the brink and given a new home on a remote lake in Madagascar.

A small group of Madagascar pochards were discovered on a lake in 2006, but it was too deep for chicks to feed. Since then conservationists have been breeding them in captivity and working with communities around a more suitable lake – Lake Sofia – to reintroduce them into the wild.

Ducklings hatched in October were transported 200 km to the lake along a dirt road and reared in lakeside aviaries. Floating aviaries built from Scottish salmon fishing cages kept the ducks safe on the water as they adapted to their new home before the doors were opened releasing them into the wild. The ducks very quickly adapted to the lake, diving and flying, associating with other wild ducks, and returning to the safety of the floating aviaries to feed and roost.

Experts from WWT, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, The Peregrine Fund and the Government of Madagascar have spent years laying the foundations for the birds’ introduction, working closely with the local communities around Lake Sofia that rely on its water, fish and plants.

WWT’s Head of Conservation Breeding, Nigel Jarrett, said: “We have been preparing for this moment for over a decade. The logistics of working in a remote part of Madagascar – where access to the lakes by vehicle is only possible for three months a year – have been an enormous challenge, requiring us to come up with novel approaches.

“Working with local communities to solve the issues which were driving this bird to extinction has been essential to giving the pochard a chance of survival. If we can make this work, it will provide a powerful example not just for of how save the planet’s most threatened species, but how communities can manage an ecosystem to benefit people and wildlife, especially in areas of significant poverty.”

The release is just one step in a long-term plan to restore Madagascar’s wetlands. WWT, Durrell and other partners have been working closely with communities around Lake Sofia for the last few years to improve farming and fishing so that they are more productive while having less impact on the natural environment. At the same time, guidance has been provided for government, authorities and conservation organisations to help them improve wetland conservation in the country.

This work would not have been possible without the support of the HSBC Anniversary Fund, The Disney Conservation Fund, the National Geographic Society, The Darwin Initiative through UK Government funding, Fota Wildlife Park, USFWS and Mitsubishi, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Synchronicity Earth.

Related Members