Above: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies the Madagascar pochard as Critically Endangered in its native Madagascar due to the destruction of the species’ wetland habitat. Photo: WWT

THE WILDFOWL & WETLANDS Trust (WWT) is finalising a ground-breaking project to release a group of the world’s rarest duck, the Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata), into its native habitat.

The conservation team has created two giant floating, circular aviaries on Lake Sofia in East Africa using Scottish salmon-farming cage parts, which were shipped to Madagascar last year. The aviaries will be home to the Critically Endangered birds while the team prepares them for release later this year. 

WWT experts have raised the fledglings from chicks and are currently training them to feed from the aviaries and floating stations so that they remain on the lake. 

It is important for the ducks’ survival that they stay on the lake, as their natural wetland habitat in the north of the country has been seriously degraded due to pollution, invasive species and human disturbance.

The WWT highlighted the plight of the Madagascar wetlands in a survey published in August 2017 and has been working alongside local communities since then to improve all aspects of wetland management for both the wildlife and the people who live there.

The floating aviaries were first trialled at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire last year, using tufted ducks (A. fuligula), to ensure that the structures were safe, in advance of the near-extinct pochards being introduced to them. 

Commenting on the completion of the construction phase of the project, Peter Cranswick, head of planning and advisory at WWT, said: “We can barely believe it ourselves, but there are now two floating aviaries on Lake Sofia. This is the last major task before we get the ducks involved.”

The WWT is due to report on the next phase of the project, when the ducks are released, shortly.


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