Animals: They were here first
A Rare Bird
The Madagascar pochard is facing extinction. You might ask, “What is a pochard? and why should I care?” A pochard is a very rare bird, a duck of distinction, who has been struggling to survive in an environment that is killing it. Scientists are trying valiantly to save the little guys, but it’s looking rather bleak. Perhaps you find it hard to care about such small stories because you’ve never met a pochard and you’re pretty sure you can live without them. After all, we’ve been getting along just fine without the old dodo bird, haven’t we? The only thing wrong with that thinking is that it shows a level of eco-ignorance. We will never know if the dodo bird’s extinction was a natural part of the earth’s life cycle or a tragic mismanagement on our part. And in the same vein, we will never know if the pochard’s presence on our planet plays any sort of significant role for you or me. Ignorance and all kidding aside, it’s best if we stand on the side of intelligence and seek to learn more about these little ducks. If you could ask a pochard what good it does for the planet, he probably would have a lot to say, but since we can’t hold such a conversation, we can learn from the observations of scientists. Here is an excerpt from the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust on the situation:
The Madagascar pochard is probably the world’s rarest bird. Endemic to Madagascar, it is now found at just one small group of lakes in the north of the country, where it teeters on the brink of extinction.
Madagascar’s wetlands at crisis point
Few places on earth can rival the scale of wetland destruction witnessed in Madagascar. In the latter half of the 20th century, approximately 60% of Madagascar’s wetlands were lost. Extensive studies of Madagascar’s central plateau have revealed that every wetland is affected by deforestation, erosion and pollution. Slash-and-burn agriculture on a massive scale, over-fishing of lakes and rivers and a surge in invasive plant and animal species has caused widespread degradation of Madagascar’s once-flourishing habitat, and these threats show no signs of stopping. The situation has been catastrophic for Madagascar’s wetland wildlife. And it’s not just wildlife like the pochard that is affected. Madagascar is the world’s ninth poorest nation, and its people’s survival is reliant on basic farming and the natural resources around them. In this situation, environmental damage and poverty are intrinsically linked.
Saving the World’s Rarest Duck
In the autumn of 2009, with our partners in Madagascar (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, TPF, and the Government of Madagascar), we brought birds into captivity as a ‘safety net’ against the threat of imminent extinction. A conservation-breeding programme was established with the long-term aim of restoring the pochard to some of the areas it used to occupy, by re-introducing captive-bred birds elsewhere in Madagascar. Project staff maintain a constant presence at the red lake and raise awareness of the pochards locally to ensure protection of the birds. The lakes and surrounding forest have been submitted to the Government for designation as a protected area. With 55 birds at our breeding facility, we’ve almost quadrupled the world population of the Madagascar pochard. Last year, we began the process of identifying suitable sites for birds to be released into the wild and we chose Lake Sofia, just over 50 km from red lake.
The next step – restoring and protecting Lake Sofia
Lake Sofia is the most intact remnant of a once vast wetland complex near Bealanana, but it is not without its problems. Already large areas of marshland have been converted to rice paddies and much of the wildlife has been lost. But there is hope. The villages around the lake already cooperate to try to manage Lake Sofia sustainably. With a more sustainable management approach, Lake Sofia can be saved from the fate that has affected the rest of the landscape. The rare species (including the globally Endangered Meller’s duck and Vulnerable Madagascar grebe) that remain there can be saved, and the 6,000 people who depend on the lake and its tributary can have a future that isn’t based on purchasing expensive fertilisers and pesticides and paying to stock the lake with imported fish. We will work with the villagers to understand their needs and develop a sustainable co-management system, run by the villagers, for the lake and its catchment. This will ensure sustainable practices – for fishing, agriculture, for use of the marshes – and restore the surrounding vegetation, which will create a healthy wetland that can support newly-release pochards, other threatened wildlife and the local communities.
Be part of Mission Madagascar
We need vital funds for the next step of the project. If we succeed, we will restore and protect Lake Sofia for the Madagascar pochard, and create a wetland habitat in which other endangered species, wildlife and people can thrive. This could be a blueprint for communities and governments, wherever there are wetlands in peril across Madagascar and beyond.