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In late 2006, it was announced that the Madagascar pochard, last seen in 1991 and feared extinct, had been rediscovered by biologists from The Peregrine Fund. Durrell staff from Madagascar and Jersey were invited to make a rapid assessment of the tiny population and identify immediate threats.
Madagascar pochards are diving birds that probably feed on aquatic plants and invertebrates in shallow water. Males have a distinctive white iris.
Unlike previously known populations, which inhabited marshy, densely vegetated lakes, the small colony of pochards located by The Peregrine Fund team was found in a heavily forested volcanic lake. Although this has raised hopes that the species is holding on in other areas as well, intensive surveys have so far not found any further populations.
In the past, the Madagascar pochard was found in the Lac Alaotra basin, where Durrell has a community-based conservation programme, focusing in particular on the gentle lemur. This region is a major rice-growing centre and the lake, its reedbeds and the wildlife that lives there have suffered from burning and hunting. The pochard, like many other waterbird species, was unable to compete with introduced fish at Alaotra and other suitable wetlands.
The tiny population recently discovered is living much further north, on a lake where there has been much less human disturbance – the area is not suitable for rice cultivation and there are no fish.
In 2009 it was estimated that there were only 20 Madagascar pochards left in the world and Durrell, in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Peregrine Fund and the Madagascar Government began an emergency operation to save the species from extinction. Three clutches of eggs were collected from the wild and 23 ducklings were reared. These birds will now form the basis of a captive-rearing project in Madagascar with the aim of one day returning this duck to other parts of Madagascar.