Rare wild ducks hatch

Posted by Christine, April 30, 2012

Eighteen Madagascan pochards—the rarest duck on the planet—are exuding cuteness in a captive breeding center in Antsohihy, Madagascar. These adorable ducklings represent nearly a third of the entire population of their critically endangered species, signaling new hope that these birds can be saved from extinction.

Madagascan pochards were thought to be extinct until explorers rediscovered 22 of them nesting at a small, forested lake in northern Madagascar in 2006. By July 2009 only six females remained. That’s when conservationists, in cooperation with the Malagasy government, opted to launch an emergency captive breeding program.

In an urgent twist on the Easter egg hunt, conservationists carefully removed 24 eggs from their nests and hatched them in incubators along the lakeshore and hotel bathrooms until the breeding facility could be built.

The new ducklings are the offspring of the now-two-year-old birds hatched from those extracted eggs. The plan is to train this new brood for life in the wild and to release them sometime in the future—if and when their caretakers can find a suitable habitat.

The lake where the lone population of wild birds still lives was once part of a system of wetlands throughout the Island’s central plateau, including many shallow lakes and extensive marshes. But a long history of lake drainage and the introduction of exotic fish has reduced the suitability of these wetlands for many birds, explains Glyn Young of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, one of several organizations that facilitates the captive breeding program.

The BBC reported in more detail:

This brings the world population of the ducks to just 60.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the groups leading the captive breeding programme, say this “builds hope that the bird can be saved from extinction”.

The precious pochards are being reared at a specially built centre in Antsohihy, Madagascar.

The ducks were thought to have become extinct in the late 1990s, but were rediscovered in 2006, when conservationists on an expedition spotted just 22 birds at a single site – Lake Matsaborimena (or Red Lake), in northern Madagascar.

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Female Madagascan pochard on eggs (c) WWT

The arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again”

Glyn Young Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Durrell and the WWT launched an emergency mission to rescue the critically endangered birds in 2009.

The aim was to collect eggs in order to start a captive breeding programme that would safeguard the species.

The conservationists collected 24 eggs from nests at the side of the lake. They initially reared the ducklings from those eggs in a hotel bathroom, while a captive breeding centre was being prepared.

The ducks that began their lives in that inauspicious setting have now bred in captivity for the first time.

Dr Glyn Young, a conservation biologist with Durrell, who has spent much of his life studying the Madagascar pochard, said: “The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction.

“The arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again.”

‘Last hiding place’

Madagascan pochards remain extremely vulnerable to extinction from a single event such as pollution or a disease outbreak.

Scientists are studying the remaining wild population closely, in order to understand the reasons behind the species’ decline and to determine the right conditions for releasing birds back into their natural habitat.