Tyne & Wear

Washington Wetland Centre helps rare Madagascan ducks to hatch

One of the birds hatched by Owen Joiner during his three-month stay in Madagascar
There are currently just 22 Madagascar pochards in the wild

One of the world's rarest bird species has successfully bred in captivity with help from Washington Wetland Centre.

Owen Joiner, the centre's captive animal manager, travelled to Madagascar in 2009 to set up facilities to breed the endangered Madagascar pochard.

Eighteen ducklings have now hatched from eggs laid by the ducks he nurtured while in the African country.

Mr Joiner said it was "fantastic" to have been involved in the "pivotal" first stage of the project.

Nurturing eggs

The pochard, known as fotsimaso, which means "white eye" in Malagasy, was believed to be extinct until a small number of birds was rediscovered at Lake Matsaborimena in northern Madagascar in 2006.

Mr Joiner was selected for the project due to his 25-year career breeding rare birds.

He has been based at Washington Wetland Centre since November 2007, and travelled to Madagascar in November 2009.

There, he spent two months nurturing eggs and ducklings which were rescued from the wild before a monsoon began.

Mr Joiner cared for the birds at a makeshift breeding and hatching facility constructed in his Antsohihy hotel room.

Had the initial rescue operation failed, the last remnants of the species could have been wiped out altogether.

Now, however, there are 22 Madagascar pochards in the wild. The birds remain vulnerable to disease outbreak and pollution, as well as having an exceptionally low breeding success rate in the wild.

Owen Joiner nurtured the eggs for two months in an improvised facility in his hotel room in Antsohihy

Mr Joiner said it was "quite special" to be able to hold "the world's rarest duckling" after many months spent nurturing the eggs.

He added: "To be invited to be included in this project was a major milestone in my career."

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, which runs the Washington Wetland Centre, was partnered in the project by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Peregrine Fund, Asity Madagascar and the Madagascan government.

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