Podcast: Peter Cranswick | Telling the story of the world’s rarest duck

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Peter Cranswick is a highly experienced waterfowl conservationist who has worked on a range of threatened species from Red-breasted and Lesser White-fronted Geese to the world’s rarest duck – the Madagascar Pochard.

Declared extinct in the 1990s and rediscovered in 2006 by a team of biologists from the Peregrine Fund, the Madagascar Pochard is on the edge of extinction. It has also been the subject of intense and successful conservation measures – culminating just a few weeks ago in a press release announcing that the project had hit a key milestone well ahead of expectations when a captive-bred flock of pochards produced two broods of ducklings of their own.

In an earlier article on this site we looked at the history of the Madagascar Pochard and the reasons for its near-terminal decline. For this accompanying podcast Charlie Moores went to Slimbridge, WWT’s HQ, to talk with Peter about his work on the ground in northern Madagascar (with a team including his colleague, the renowned aviculturist Nigel Jarrett), and how the project changed from what he once described as “a hastily implemented rescue mission focused solely on a duck…into a genuinely holistic programme for wildlife and people“.

It’s a fascinating story of conservation in the 21st century, and Charlie began by asking Peter, “So, how do you go about saving a little brown duck a very long way off that few of us have even heard of…”

“…there’s a bunch of ecologists – conservationists – turning up, who are potentially messing with the livelihoods of twelve, fourteen thousand people – we have to tread so carefully – if they see that we are prioritising the duck it’s probably not going to work… “

Peter Cranswick | Telling the story of saving the world’s rarest duck
January 2020

The following ‘key project achievements’ can also be found on the WWT website:

  • Nearly 1,000 people have joined community based management associations
  • We now have 450 farmers involved in sustainable rice schemes. Since the introduction of sustainable rice farming techniques, rice yields increased by 300%
  • 100% of fishers now use legal nets and initial surveys suggest their daily income has increased more than two-fold
  • Surveys suggest there’s been an 80% reduction in the use of pesticides across the whole catchment
  • We’ve built a boat landing platform at Lake Sofia to give fishers safe access to the lake where it won’t disturb other areas of natural marsh
  • We released the first headstarted Madagascar pochard ducklings back into the wild

Header image of Peter Cranswick and team in Madagascar copyright Benjamin Sadd. Madagascar Pochard image copyright Peter Cranswick