The man leading the fight to save the world’s rarest duck has travelled thousands of miles for help from a North East expert.
WWT Washington Wetland Centre aviculture manager Owen Joiner already played a key role five years ago in preventing the Madagascar pochard from slipping into extinction.
Now Malagasy born and bred Floriot Randrianarimangason has arrived in Washington to pick up tips from Owen.
Floriot started his conservation career in Madagascar looking after the world’s rarest tortoise – the ploughshare.
But in 2009 he switched to the Madagascar pochard and now manages a specialist pochard conservation breeding facility.
Floriot heads a team of three – the only wildfowl aviculturists working in Madagascar.
With just 50 birds in their care and breeding only two to three broods a year until a release programme is under way, opportunity to learn through experience is limited.
So now he has flown to the UK to work alongside Owen, who cares for hundreds of waterbirds at WWT Washington and was among the first WWT staff to fly out to the Indian Ocean island in late 2009, when the mission to save the Madagascar pochard began.
Floriot said: “This will be very valuable time for me. I’ve met many of the people I’ll be working alongside before in Madagascar, where they’ve helped set up the pochard breeding facility. This time I’ll be seeing how things are done in the UK, where you have decades of experience in breeding wildfowl for conservation.
“Though the situation in Madagascar is different, this experience will help me to adapt these methods to ensure a safe future for the Madagascar pochard.”
Owen’s skills in hatching and rearing some of the first captive-bred pochard chicks in Madagascar in 2009 effectively doubled the world population at that time.
Owen said: “Floriot already manages an incredible feat, caring for the world’s rarest bird in very challenging circumstances. No one else in Madagascar is doing what he does, so for support and advice, he relies on contacting us by phone.
“This month he’ll be rolling his sleeves up, just as he would back home, and we’ll immerse him in more duck-related activity than he dreamt was possible, covering every aspect of their care.”
The Madagascar pochard was thought to be extinct until a population of 22 was discovered on a single lake in 2006. That figure has hardly risen because every year the ducklings die through starvation as the lake’s conditions don’t suit them.
But another lake that could give the species hope has been found.
Floriot will be learning a range of incubation, hatching and rearing techniques – skills which he can take back to Madagascar. In 2009 Owen spent three months hatching 26 pochard eggs and rearing the chicks.
He spent two months in his room in a basic hotel in Madagascar tending first the eggs and then the 24 ducklings which hatched. But the big challenge was whether those ducklings themselves would breed in captivity.
In fact the hotel room birds checked in with 18 youngsters, raising hopes that in future the island can be re-colonised by the ducks.
Owen said: “I’ve been working in the conservation breeding field for 25 years and to be invited to be included in this project was a major milestone in my career. The initial setting up and hatching of the first eggs was pivotal to the success of the project, so to be involved in that stage, out in Madagascar, was fantastic.
“Despite the gravity and seriousness of our mission, and the professional approach that we took, it was still quite special just to be able to gently hold the world’s rarest duckling in your hand.”
The collected eggs were ferried by car for four hours to Owen’s hotel, where he had set up incubators and a rearing tank with a tiny pool in his room. Owen fed the birds on pellets sent from WWT in England. After two months, the young birds could be moved to an outdoor site with large pools.