Ducks once thought extinct saved due to Scottish fish farm cages

Pochard eggs being cultivated in captivity Ducklings alongside a 'lake' in captivity Dr Glyn Young, head of birds at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “The idea that we could be releasing pochards into the wild only 12 years after rediscovery pays remarkable testament to the dreams and hard work of many people from Madagascar, Jersey and the UK, who have worked tirelessly to see this remarkable bird get a chance of survival in a changing world.”The state of the wetlands in Madagascar is so poor they would probably not survive if they left the lake. Consequently, the pioneering approach  of using the cages helped ensure they settled on the lake and did not stray to less habitable environments. Pochard eggs being cultivated in captivityCredit:Peter Cranswick After successful trials in 2017, the aviaries were shipped from the UK to Madagascar and assembled on Lake Sofia this summer.Then those ducklings which hatched in October were transported 124 miles to the lake along a dirt road to be reared in land-based aviaries.In December, just before the ducks were able to fly, they were moved into the floating aviaries. The ducklings inside the converted Scottish fish farm cage where they lived for a weekCredit: Ben Sadd/WWT They had spent a week in the converted fish farm cages to protect them, get them accustomed to the environment and increase the chances of them returning when they can fly.Staff from the Gloucestershire-based Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust say they have adapted well to the lake and the cages.They have been seen diving and flying, as well as mixing with other wild ducks, and have repeatedly returned to the aviaries where they are thought to feel safe.With a wild population of now nearly 50, the duck may be even the rarest bird on the planet. The Madagascar ducklings being raised in captivity Madagascar pochard ducklings at the floating aviaries at Lake Sofia, Madagascar, which serve as a temporary aquatic home for the world's rarest duck Madagascar pochard ducklings at the floating aviaries at Lake Sofia, Madagascar, which serve as a temporary aquatic home for the world’s rarest duckCredit:Ben Sadd/WTT Nigel Jarrett, head of conservation breeding at the WWT, said: “It takes a village to raise a child, so the old African proverb goes, but in this case it has taken a village to raise a duck. We have been preparing for this moment for over a decade. The Madagascar pochard is a species endemic to the African island. While it was once common, widespread deforestation and water pollution caused by the arrival of humans on the island led to the decline in the species and the belief it had been entirely wiped out. The British organisations have about 80 pochards still in captivity, 21 have been released into the wild using the unique system of converted Scottish fish farm cages. A further 25 are believed to be living wild on the island. The ducklings inside the converted Scottish fish farm cage where they lived for a week “The logistics of working in a remote part of Madagascar – where access to the lakes by vehicle is only possible for three months a year – have been an enormous challenge, requiring us to come up with novel approaches.”Working with local communities to solve the issues which were driving this bird to extinction has been essential to giving the pochard a chance of survival.”If we can make this work, it will provide a powerful example not just for of how save the planet’s most threatened species but how communities can manage an ecosystem to benefit people and wildlife, especially in areas of significant poverty.” For this reason, a plan was conceived to convert Scottish salmon-farming cages into the world’s first floating aviaries. Ducklings alongside a ‘lake’ in captivityCredit: Peter Cranswick Members of the WWT conservation team releasing the Madagascar pochard ducklings at Lake Sofia, MadagascarCredit:Ben Sadd/WWT The world’s rarest duck has been saved from extinction after being reared in Madagascar in the first ever floating aviaries made from converted Scottish salmon farming cages.Over the last seven years, around 100 Madagascar pochards were bred by British aviculturists on the island just off Mozambique.This month 21 of them have been successfully transferred to the wild to live on Lake Sofia in the north of the island. The floating aviaries visible on Lake Sofia The floating aviaries visible on Lake SofiaCredit:Ben Sadd/WTT Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. Other floating equipment – feeding stations and loafing rafts, designed to promote breeding – have also been specially designed and installed on the lake to give the birds the best possible chance of survival.With much of the wetlands across northern Madagascar severely degraded due to human encroachment, conservationists have also been working to improve the condition of Lake Sofia. Members of the WWT conservation team releasing the Madagascar pochard ducklings at Lake Sofia, Madagascar The pochard was thought to have become extinct until it was rediscovered by American wildlife experts from The Peregrine Fund in 2006.Three years later teams from the UK organisations went over to Madagascar and helped rear some of the birds in captivity using a box and a Tupperware container as a ‘lake’. However, those birds that were hatched without siblings were given a rolled up sock to keep them company and serve as a “best friend”.Madagascar pochards spend almost all their time on water and, importantly, feed underwater. The Madagascar ducklings being raised in captivityCredit:WWT read more