Above: the Madagascar pochard is endemic to the African island and there are just 30-50 remaining in the wild, making it the rarest bird in the world

 

CHICKS OF THE world’s rarest duck have been sighted in the wild, just over a year since 21 captive-bred individuals were released by conservationists.

A total of 12 Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) ducklings were counted on Lake Sofia, a remote site in northern Madagascar – the same site where a team from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust released birds in December 2018 as part of a pioneering project to save the rare species.

This key milestone is well ahead of expectations – diving ducks normally breed for the first time at two years old – and is the first step in the long-term project to establish a new population.

“I am happy and proud, as well as a little surprised, that our released birds have produced ducklings within one year,” said Felix Razafindrajao, Durrell’s wetlands manager, who was part of the team to discover the ducklings.

“Despite the release techniques being a world first, it’s clear that our methods and the careful preparation and planning have worked.”

After a hands-on effort to rear the birds in captivity, and to transport and release them at the project’s remote location, those involved say it’s been fantastic to see the ducks take this next critical step for themselves.

Peter Cranswick, WWT’s project manager, said: “Reintroduced animals normally take a while to settle into their new site, and first breeding attempts are often unsuccessful, so this is a wholly unexpected but very welcome development.

“It took several years for the local communities around the lake to give this project to restore the lake and reintroduce pochards their endorsement. Now the ducks have given it their endorsement too!”

The Madagascar pochard was thought extinct until a chance discovery by The Peregrine Fund of 20 birds on a small, remote lake in 2006. By 2009, the birds were rescued and brought into captivity, and a breeding centre was established in Antsohihy.

In 2018, 21 pochards which were hand-reared at the breeding centre were the first released into the wild.

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