Nigel Jarrett, (WWT Head of Conservation breeding) with an adult pochard © WWT
Madagascar, the fifth largest island in the world, is home to a unique collection of charismatic but highly threatened species. It makes up less than 0.5 per cent of Earth’s landmass, but contains around 5 per cent of its biodiversity. The majority of its species – more than 80 per cent – exist nowhere else on Earth. But for all its natural beauty, Madagascar also suffers from chronic poverty – around 75 per cent of its population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank – and pressure on the environment and natural resources is intense.
The Madagascar pochard is one of its less celebrated species, but its plight mirrors that of countless others on the island, the causes often the same: slash and burn agriculture, deforestation, increased sedimentation of rivers and wetlands, pollution, invasive species and over-exploited natural resources. As habitats disappear and food sources dwindle, species populations become fragmented and vulnerable and their numbers start to decline towards extinction. But for the pochard, there is light at the end of the tunnel: a long-term collaboration has dragged them back from the brink of extinction, at the same time proving what is possible with the right combination of partnership, patience and local community participation.
A surprise discovery
The Madagascar pochard is so rare that for many years it was thought to be extinct, another victim of the ecological devastation that has ravaged vast areas of this island nation. Then in 2006, a team from US NGO The Peregrine Fund rediscovered a small population living on a remote crater lake in the north of the country. This last remaining population of ducks had been pushed out of their natural habitat and were struggling to survive. Used to finding food in shallower, marshy habitats, the depth and temperature of this crater lake meant that the young could not feed and were unable to survive. At this stage, the future looked bleak for the Madagascar pochard. With so many other charismatic species on the island under threat, what hope was there for an unremarkable diving duck?