Rare, nearly extinct duck finds new home at lake in Madagascar

A species of duck that was thought to be extinct for more than a decade has found a new home on a lake in northern Madagascar, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in the U.K. announced this week.

Twenty-one Madagascar pochards -- a duck species considered exceedingly rare and thought to be extinct for 15 years -- were released this month from floating aviaries, or cages, made from Scottish salmon-farming cages.

The ducks spent a week in the aviaries -- which were shipped from the U.K. to Madagascar over the summer -- on Lake Sofia before they were released there. During this time, the Madagascar pochards became accustomed to their surroundings.

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Once they were released, the birds “very quickly adapted to the lake, diving, and flying, associating with other wild ducks, and returning to the safety of the floating aviaries to feed and roost,” the WWT said in a news release.

What was thought to be the last remaining Madagascar pochards were unexpectedly discovered in 2006 in the northwestern part of the country by Lily-Arison Rene de Roland, the national director of the Madagascar Project for The Peregrine Fund, a bird conservation organization.

While the Madagascar pochards there were reproducing, their ducklings had trouble surviving because the lake where they were found was too deep and cold, The Guardian reported.

In 2009, one-day-old chicks from the lake in northwestern Madagascar were taken by conservationists to be raised in captivity. Today, there are more than 100 pochards in captivity, according to the publication.

Since the discovery, conservationists have been “meticulously planning” the birds’ release, according to the WWT.

Pochard ducklings hatched in October were taken more than 100 miles away from where they were born to be reared in lakeside aviaries. Then, “just before they were able to fly, [the birds] moved into the floating aviaries,” the WWT said, which noted “other floating equipment – feeding stations and loafing rafts – have also been specially designed and installed on the lake to give the birds the best possible chance of survival.”

The birds will likely not survive if they leave Lake Sofia because the wetlands in northern Madagascar are in poor condition, and have been “severely degraded due to human encroachment.”

More specifically, non-native fish -- such as carp and tilapia -- that were introduced to the wetlands exacerbated the pochards’ struggle for survival, Glyn Young, the head of birds at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which also worked to save the species, told The Guardian.

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“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,” Nigel Jarrett, the WWT’s head of conversation breeding, said in a statement. “We have been preparing for this moment for over a decade. 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.”

Jarrett explained local communities have been “essential” to ensure the birds’ survival.

“Working with local communities to solve the issues which were driving this bird to extinction has been essential to giving the pochard a chance of survival,” he said. “ If we can make this work, it will provide a powerful example not just for of how to save the planet’s most threatened species, but how communities can manage an ecosystem to benefit people and wildlife, especially in areas of significant poverty.”