Madagascar Pochard, Aythya innotata

The Madagascar Pochard (Aythya innotata) is an exceptionally rare diving duck belonging to the genus Aythya. Thought to be extinct in the late 1990s, specimens of this species were rediscovered at Lake Matsaborimena in Madagascar in 2006. Only 60 individuals remain after 18 ducklings hatched in a captive breeding center in April 2012.

Based on the accounts written by Webb and Delacour’s in the 1920s and 1930s, it seemed that the bird was still relatively common at Lake Alaotra. The duck most likely started to decline dramatically sometime in the late 1940s or 1950s. The reason for decline was the introduction of numerous fish species in the lake that killed most of the pochard chicks and damaged nesting sites. Adult birds are also likely to have become victims of introduced fishes. Rice development, cattle grazing on the shores, burning of shore vegetation, introduced mammals such as rats, gill-net fishing and hunting are all factors the led to the ducks vanishing from the lake. The last record of multiple birds at Lake Alaotra is from June 9, 1960 when a tiny flock of about 20 birds was spotted on the lake. Despite the rarity of the species in 1960, a male was shot, and the specimen is now held by the Zoological Museum Amsterdam. There is a very uncertain report of a sighting made outside Antananarivo in 1970.

Before a rediscovery in 2006, the last confirmed sighting of the species was at Lake Alaotra on the Central Plateau of Madagascar in 1991. The single male then encountered was caught and kept in the Antananarivo Botanical Gardens until its death one year afterwards. Intensive searches and publicity campaigns in 1989-1990, 1993-1994 and 2000-2001 failed to provide any more records of this bird.

However, a flock of 9 adults and 4 recently hatched ducklings were discovered at Lake Matsaborimena, in an isolated area of Madagascar, in November 2006. The species was placed in the new “Possibly Extinct” category in the 2006 IUCN Red List; following the rediscovery, its old status of Critically Endangered was restored in the 2007 issue. As of 2008, only 25 adult birds have been counted out in the wild.

In 2009, a rescue plan involving the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust removed a batch of ready-to-hatch eggs from a lake-side nest and incubated them in a lab that was set up in a tent beside the lake. After hatching, the day-old chicks were taken to a holding facility within a local hotel. Those birds were then raised in captivity, and, as a result, hatched 18 ducklings in April 2012 at the captive breeding center in Antsohihy.

Image Caption: Madagascar Pochard, Captive Breeding Program. Credit: Frank Vassen/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)