The Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata is globally threatened, classified as Critically Endangered. The only pochard in the western Indian Ocean, it was once relatively widespread and particularly common in the Lake Alaotra watershed. Wide-scale, severe environmental degradation in Madagascar has caused extensive loss of wetland habitats, reduction of aquatic biodiversity and declines in waterbirds. Threats include sedimentation from increased erosion following deforestation, conversion of wetlands to agricultural land, hunting, by-catch from fishing and introduced species. Described as common at Alaotra in the 1930s, only one pochard, captured by fishermen in 1991, was observed between 1960 and rediscovery in Lake Matsaborimena, a small volcanic lake at Bemanevika, in 2006.
With a population of just 25, Saving the Madagascar Pochard, a partnership of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, The Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar and the Government of Madagascar was formed in 2008. A captive population of pochards was established in Antsohihy, Madagascar in 2009 to prevent the potentially imminent extinction and release captive-bred birds in restored wetlands in the future. The first captive-bred pochard hatched in 2011, the 100th in 2018 and 21 were released at Lake Sofia in 2018, breeding themselves, in the wild, in 2019. A second centre was opened in Antsohihy in 2017 allowing local public, schools and tourists to see the pochards and learn about the project.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and WWT submitted this project to the BIAZA Awards Field Conservation category for 2020 and won a Gold award.