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Durrell project helps boost numbers of world’s rarest duck

12 Madagascan pochard ducklings have been sighted on Lake Sofia, in the north of the African island following a breeding programme. Credit: Durrell Madagascar

A project by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has boosted numbers of the world's rarest duck in the wild.

12 Madagascan pochard ducklings have been sighted on Lake Sofia, in the north of Madagascar - a site where the team released 21 captive-bred pochards in December 2018, in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

The discovery of the two broods of ducklings has surprised conservationists, as diving ducks tend to breed for the first time at two years old.

I am happy and proud, as well as a little surprised, that our released birds have produced ducklings within one year. Despite the release techniques being a world-first, it's clear that our methods and the careful preparation and planning have worked to save the Fotsimaso.

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.

– Felix Razafindrajao, Durrell's Wetlands Manager

Up until 2006, the species was thought to be extinct, but a chance sighting by the Peregrine Fund led to the ducks being brought into captivity in 2009. They were housed at a new breeding centre in the regional capital of Antsohihy.

The Trust says it is delighted with the discovery and hopes it marks the beginning of a revival for the species.

This is a remarkable step in this project to save and restore the Madagascar pochard. When we started in 1989 and found no hope for the species' survival until 2006, things looked very bleak. But we never gave up and I am so proud on behalf of our partnership and for all of our Malagasy colleagues that this pivotal milestone offers hope that the pochard may one day be widespread across Madagascar's wetlands.

– Dr Glyn Young, Durrell's Project Manager

A monitoring team has been based at the site where the birds were released and will now keep an eye on the ducklings to ensure they are developing.

The charity says the young ducklings will face many challenges, including finding food to sustain them and surviving the cyclone season. The birds will have to develop full feathers if they are to survive.