The Madagascar pochard is a duck species so elusive that conservationists once thought it was extinct. But in 2006, a team happened upon a small population of the birds at an isolated lake on the island; it was the first time conservationists had laid eyes on the bird in more than 15 years.
Image Credit: WWT
Several factors, including habitat degradation and pollution, are thought to be responsible for the species’ decline. But as the conservationists put it, this particular lake was still untouched enough to be habitable for the birds, which might explain why they found a few residing there.
Thinking on their feet, the conservationists gathered a clutch of Madagascar pochard eggs from the site and cared for them in captivity. Now that they’ve grown up, the conservationists have decided to reintroduce 21 Madagascar pochards to their natural habitat to boost numbers in the wild.
“It takes a village to raise a child, so the old African proverb goes, but in this case, it has taken a village to raise a duck. We have been preparing for this moment for over a decade,” explained Nigel Jarrett, the head of conservation breeding at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
“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.”
To help ensure the birds’ survival, the team devised floating aviaries that would support their water-centric lifestyle. Specialized feeding stations are available inside these aviaries to ensure that the birds get enough to eat while they grow accustomed to their new home.
Image Credit: WWT
Given the declining conditions of Madagascar’s wetlands all these years, restoration efforts are in full effect to ensure the region’s habitability for various animal species, including the Madagascar pochard.
“The idea that we could be releasing pochards into the wild only 12 years after rediscovery pays remarkable testament to the dreams and hard work of many people from Madagascar, Jersey, and the UK, who have worked tirelessly to see this remarkable bird get a chance of survival in a changing world,” added Dr. H. Glyn Young of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
“The restoration program at Lake Sofia will encourage others in Madagascar to no longer look at the Island’s wetlands as lost causes. They may once again be centers of biodiversity while continuing to support communities of people who also depend on them.”
With a little luck, perhaps the bird’s population numbers will bounce back, giving conservationists another inspiring success story to share with future generations.