The first-ever study of the world’s rarest duck, the Madagascar Pochard, has shown that 96 per cent of the species’ ducklings die before fledging, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) revealed today. The research concludes that the last remaining population of this Critically Endangered duck cannot expand without outside help.
The only known wild population is restricted to one wetland in north-east Madagascar – a complex of lakes near Bemanevika. Just 25 mature individuals were counted there in 2008, though BirdLife International estimates the total population as 20-49, as a few birds may persist elsewhere.
The study, published in Bird Conservation International, found that mortality actually increases as the chicks get older, peaking when they are between two and three weeks old. The researchers concluded that most chicks slowly starve to death once they’re old enough to dive for food, because the water is too deep for them. WWT Senior Research Officer Dr Andrew Bamford, who led the study, said: “The last refuge of the Madagascar Pochard is one of the last unspoilt wetlands in the country, but it’s simply not suited to its needs. Something similar happened in the UK when the lowland Red Kite became confined to upland Wales.
“For the species to survive, we need to start another population in a large, shallow wetland. In 2009 we started a conservation breeding programme and now have 54 pochards in captivity. We’ve found wetlands nearby that have potential but they need restoring, so we’re asking the community there if we can work with them to improve the wetlands for their benefit and the pochards at the same time.”
As part of the Saving the Madagascar Pochard project, the WWT has identified Lake Sofia in north-west Madagascar as a potential new site for the species. However, the lives of more than 6,000 people depend on fishing and farming around Lake Sofia. To restore the wetland for the pochard, the project must first address the fragile balance between the needs of wetlands, wildlife and people, the WWT said.
Saving the Madagascar Pochard is a major international collaboration between Malagasy and international organisations to restore the species and a flagship for the recovery of Madagascar’s highly threatened wetland ecosystems. The partners are Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Peregrine Fund, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Asity Madagascar and the government of Madagascar.