The world's rarest duck has bred successfully in captivity in an "incredible step forward" in saving the bird from extinction.
The Madagascar pochard was believed to be extinct until its rediscovery by chance on a small lake in northern Madagascar, where just 22 of the diving duck are left in the wild.
Conservationists said the species remains extremely vulnerable to extinction from single events such as pollution or disease outbreak.
An emergency expedition two years ago saw eggs taken from the wild and reared in captivity at a specially built centre in Antsohihy on the island off the coast of Africa.
Ducks successfully hatched from the eggs taken into captivity have now themselves bred, producing 18 ducklings which are being reared at the centre.
– Glyn Young, of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction.
Seven years ago, people thought this bird was already extinct and yet the discovery of one small population and now the arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again.
The conservation project, which also involves the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar and the Madagascan government, is studying the wild population to understand why it is declining and where the best place to release a captive bred group would be.
Scientists have raised concerns that the birds appear to have a very low breeding success rate at Lake Matsaborimena, their last remaining wild site.
– Head of species recovery at WWT, Peter Cranswick
Although Lake Matsaborimena is the last hiding place for the ducks, it is far from ideal as a habitat.
Our initial investigations suggest there is too little food and this may be leading to the low survival of the ducklings; in effect, they are starving to death.
Mr Cranswick said the team had identified some lakes where the physical conditions were potentially right for the pochards.
But as fishing is thought to be a factor in their decline and local communities depend on fishing, the success of a reintroduction scheme depends on gaining local support and finding a solution that benefits both locals and the birds.