Above: day-old Madagascar pochard ducklings. The WWT team planned to release 32 birds in 2018; so far there are 22 to be released. Photo: WWT


A PIONEERING PROJECT to raise and release some of the world’s rarest ducks back into their native habitat on Lake Sofia in East Africa is making good headway.

As reported in Cage & Aviary Birds, November 7 issue, a group of Critically Endangered Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) will be transported to floating aviaries that have been set up on the lake.

Latest updates from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) conservation team describe how the day-old ducklings will undertake the 60-mile journey from the city of Antsohihy, where they are being hatched, to Lake Sofia by road. The team will be using off-road vehicles to tackle the harsh terrain, with an experienced driver to make the journey as smooth as possible. A vet will accompany the aviculturists to monitor the birds throughout the 10-12-hour journey.

Batches of eight ducklings will be transported, with each journey being assessed for improvements before the next group are sent a few days later.

A duckery will be established in the town of Marotolana where the ducklings will spend 10 days before being moved to the lakeside. The birds will be closed-ringed, vaccinated and have tracking devices fitted before they are introduced to the floating aviaries.

To maximise the chances of a successful release, another batch of more mature fledglings, about 50 days old, will be transported from Antsohihy to be released alongside the ducklings. Experts say the older birds’ flight feathers will have hardened by that age, so they will be less likely to sustain injuries during the arduous journey.

In all, approximately 32 birds will be released onto Lake Sofia: 16 reared by the lake and 16 transported as fledglings.

Late last month, the WWT posted the following on its blog: “The future of the pochards relies on the birds staying on the lake and breeding, so they will be trained to recognise the floating feeding stations which have been marked with black and white visual cues to help the ducklings associate them with food.

“The team hope that these ingenious devices will help to keep the pochards nourished and safe while the population becomes established.”

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