The world’s rarest ducks have bred in the wild, reaching a milestone in a project to establish a new population sooner than expected, conservationists have said.
With a speed that has surprised scientists, Madagascar pochards that were bred and reared in captivity and released a year ago on Lake Sofia, in the north of the African island nation, have produced ducklings.
A total of 12 Madagascar pochard ducklings – two broods of eight and four baby birds – have been sighted on the remote lake where 21 of the birds known locally as “Fotsimaso” were released in December 2018.
Their release was the first step in a long-term project to establish a new population of the waterbirds, which were thought to have gone extinct until a chance discovery of 20 birds on a small remote lake in 2006.
Eggs from the birds were brought into captivity and reared in a rescue mission in 2009, with a breeding centre established in Antsohihy, the regional capital, while the search began to find a wetland home for a new wild population.
Lake Sofia was chosen and the birds have responded to their new home by breeding a year after release – defying expectations as diving ducks normally breed for the first time at two years old, conservationists said.
Most of northern Madagascar’s wetlands are severely degraded due to human activity, including agriculture, the loss of water quality as trees are cut down and introduced species of fish.
Conservationists from Durrell, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Asity Madagascar and the Aga Khan Foundation, in partnership with the Madagascar Ministry of Environment, have been working to improve Lake Sofia to provide a home for the ducks.
They are also working to develop sustainable livelihoods and environmental benefits for the 14,000 people who live in villages around the lake.
Durrell’s wetlands manager, Felix Razafindrajao, was part of the team to discover the ducklings, said: “I am happy and proud, as well as a little surprised, that our released birds have produced ducklings within one year.
“After much hands-on effort to rear birds in captivity, and to transport and release them at this remote location, it’s fantastic to see the ducks take this next critical step for themselves.”
WWT’s project manager Peter Cranswick added: “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.”
He said the conservation team was not yet “counting our ducklings” as there many challenges ahead as the adults were young, inexperienced and reared in captivity.
The young also face the challenge of finding food in a lake that is in poor condition – and have already been observed taking food off feeding platforms provided by project staff.
And with cyclone season under way, it is crucial the birds grow and develop their first full feathers to provide waterproofing and warmth.
Mr Cranswick said: “There is a long way to go – and there will be many setbacks along the way – but this is a major milestone achieved two or three years ahead of schedule.”
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?