NATURALISTS have been handed a second chance to save the world’s rarest duck from extinction.
And they have called on the help of North East expert Owen Joiner who is preparing to jet out to Madagascar to help pull the birds back from the brink.
Owen, 33, is head birdkeeper at Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and has been involved in running breeding programmes for endangered species at the site on the banks of the River Wear.
For the last 30 years, it was thought that the Madagascar Pochard duck was already extinct. But then biologists discovered around 20 of the birds on a small, remote lake.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Peregrine Fund and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have set up a base at the lake and plan to start a captive breeding venture.
Only six females have been identified, which means the fate of the species is hanging in the balance.
Owen is well versed in the technique, used at Washington, of collecting eggs from nesting females and hatching them in incubators away from predators and bad weather conditions. The young, which are hatched this way in Madagascar, will form a captive breeding stock, and their offspring will be released into the wild at controlled sites.
At Washington, the same system has produced 219 young from 36 species.
Owen, who has kept ducks and other birds from boyhood, said: “By taking the first clutch of eggs for protected incubation, we encourage the females to lay a second batch.
“And in the case of critically-endangered species, numbers are all-important. At Washington, Owen has worked on breeding schemes with the Baer’s Pochard, which is a close cousin of the Madgascar bird, and rare species like the Laysan Teal, which is also critically endangered.
“It is incredibly fortunate that this small number of birds has been found in such a very remote location and means we have a chance to bring them back from the edge,” said Owen.