Fota Wildlife Park has donated €320,000 to a breeding programme to save the Madagascar Pochard from extinction including €80,000 to establish a captive breeding centre in 2011; the programme released a group of captive-reared pochards into the wild last month onto Lake Sofia in Northern Madagascar.
The species was believed to be extinct for 16 years until the rediscovery of a small population of 22 adult birds on Lake Sofia in 2006. Initial research showed that none of the ducklings produced by these birds were surviving in the wild. Several eggs were collected from the wild and 20 ducklings were reared to form the basis of a captive population from which over 100 birds have been established at a conservation breeding facility in Madagascar. The rescue and reintroduction operation was pioneered by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in conjunction with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and financially supported by partners such as Fota Wildlife Park.
From September to November last year, 35 captive-bred ducks were released onto Lake Sofia, a remote site in the north of the island, where the project’s first-ever reintroduction took place in 2018. Each year there is only a three-month window during the dry season when it is possible to transport the birds 200 kilometres to Lake Sofia. This latest release now brings the total number of reintroduced adults on the lake to 47.
Sean McKeown, Director of Fota Wildlife Park said, “Fota Wildlife Park is delighted to be involved with and financially supportive of this project, which epitomises sustainable conservation through its partnerships with the local communities and environment. In the early 21st century, the Madagascan Pochard was considered extinct, and now wild numbers of the bird currently stand at around 70, and this is an amazing achievement. I have personally visited the existing breeding centre and seen the innovations such as the floating aviaries, which are a world first, the platforms and feeding stations. They have created an environment where they can monitor the birds while the pochards can access food, acclimatise to the site and settle in safely to their new home on Lake Sofia.”
This latest release of pochard is the project’s second on Lake Sofia. The project partners have been working closely with communities around the lake for over five years to improve farming and fishing practices, making them more productive, environmentally sensitive, and sustainable and which will help restore a habitat that can support pochards. The project has the full support of the local communities; in October, the villagers held a traditional ancestors’ blessing ceremony called a “Joro” to ask their ancestors for good fortune for the “Fotsimaso”, as the bird is known locally.
Fota Wildlife Park, set on 100 acres in the heart of Cork Harbour, is a zoological conservation charity and is also one of Ireland’s top visitor attractions.
Fota Wildlife Park participates in European Endangered Species Breeding Programmes (EEP) for several animal species, including the Cheetah, Black and white ruffed lemurs, European bison and Scimitar-horned oryx.
Fota Wildlife Park is a leading contributor to the conservation of national and global biodiversity through conservation education in fostering greater public understanding of the threats to the biodiversity of animal and plant habitats, the breeding of endangered species and the promotion of conservation work worldwide.