The Peregrine Fund Assists Launch of Conservation Program for Critically Endangered Madagascar Pochard
5 November 2009Eight ducklings from one of the world's rarest birds were collected recently from a remote lake in Madagascar to become part of a conservation breeding program aimed at saving the critically endangered Madagascar Pochard from extinction.
The pochard, a medium-sized diving duck, was feared extinct by the late 1990s but was rediscovered in 2006 when biologists from The Peregrine Fund, who were scouting for a threatened bird of prey, the Madagascar Harrier, observed 20 adult pochards at a shallow, 86-acre lake in northern Madagascar.
The Peregrine Fund joined forces with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), and the government of Madagascar to establish a re-introduction program.
"Efforts to save this duck and protect its habitat will be good for all the animals that depend on this ecosystem to survive," said Russell Thorstrom, a biologist in charge of The Peregrine Fund's Madagascar program. "We were already actively involved in seeking protection for the larger region in which the lake and these ducks are located, so this recovery effort fits well with our overall conservation goal for birds of prey."
This year, a Peregrine Fund staff biologist and a technician monitored the tiny population of ducks during the breeding season. They became concerned in July when they found only six adult females and evidence that several chicks had died. A team of experts from Durrell and WWT was dispatched to ensure the safety of other eggs the ducks produced.
In late October, eight ducklings were transported over rough roads to a make-shift rearing facility in a hotel 12 hours away. All eight birds continue to do well.
"The urgency of the situation has meant a great deal of invention and improvisation--next year simply may have been too late," said Peter Crasnwick of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. "Safely bringing birds into captivity marks the start of a 20-year or 30-year conservation project."
The decline of the pochard likely began in the 1940s when its habitat was degraded by introduced plant and fish species, conversion to rice paddies and burning of vegetation. The lake where the re-discovered pochards live is located in a pristine area of wetlands, forests and grasslands that support a variety of wildlife found nowhere else on Earth.
A key component of the conservation project's success will be the cooperation of local communities, Thorstrom said. The Peregrine Fund has worked for 20 years to gain official protection for three globally significant regions in Madagascar, including the proposed 80,000-acre Bealanana area, which would protect habitat for the pochard along with the endangered Madagascar Serpent Eagle and Madagascar Red Owl and other vulnerable species.
The organization is currently working with local people to devise a Bealanana management plan that will protect their culture, customs and economy while also protecting the environment. Thorstrom expects that plan to be completed next year.
"Early on, we wanted to help the Malagasy people help themselves to conserve endangered birds of prey and other wildlife," he said.
A collaborative effort, such as that for the Madagascar Pochard, is critical to the success of such recovery programs, Thorstrom said.
"This is the first important step toward saving this rare species from extinction," he said. "It shows how organizations working cooperatively can overcome challenges and continue onward in their conservation effort for this critically endangered duck."
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