ABU DHABI / WAM
A total of 100 conservation projects for endangered species of plants and wildlife in Madagascar received grants from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, attendees at a special talk on conservation in the island were told at a meeting at capital’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club – UAE.
Overall, the Fund has now given a total of 2,041 grants worldwide, worth more than $19mn, benefiting conservation work on 1,341 species, sub-species in 170 nations.
The Madagascar projects, covering a wide range of endangered species, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plants, have received a total of over $900,000 in grants, according to Nicolas Heard, Head of Fund Management at the MBZ Fund. Recipients of the grants have included a wide range of scientific and conservation organisations and universities, as well as local governmental and non-governmental bodies.
Heard was introducing a talk entitled ‘Madagascar pochards and ploughshare tortoises – protecting the rarest of the rare in Madagascar’, presented by Dr. H. Glyn Young, Head of the Birds Department at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, based at Jersey Zoo, in the British Channel Island of Jersey. Both projects have received support from the MBZ Fund.
The lecture was organised by the Emirates Natural History Group and was co-sponsored by the MBZ Fund and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD.
The Madagascar pochard, one of the world’s rarest species of duck, was first discovered in the 19th Century, with a few individuals being recorded occasionally up until 1970. A single bird was captured by a local resident in 1991, but with no further records before 2000, the species was then believed to be extinct. In 2006, however, some birds were found in a new location, and in 2008, Young said, a ‘Saving the Madagascar pochard project’ was launched in collaboration with Britain’s Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, WWT. A major programme of fieldwork and captive breeding then got under way, with the support of the MBZ Fund.
By 2012, with sufficient birds having been bred in captivity, planning for reintroduction of the species into a suitable lake in northern Madagascar got under way, with the support of the local community. Today, there is a stable population in the wild, where 64 birds were counted in May this year, with a further 93 birds in the two successful captive breeding centres.
Reporting on progress of a second project, to conserve wild population of the large ploughshare tortoise, or Angonoka, Young said that it was estimated in 1983 that only between 100-400 animals survived in the wild, with another 50 in captivity. A breeding programme was launched in the late 1980s and by 1998, a first animal was released. By 2015, 100 tortoises had been released.
Young noted, however, that the success of the programme had led to a new threat, posed by the popularity of the animals as pets in South East Asia. 75 captive-bred tortoises were stolen in 1996 while in 2013, a further 53 animals, captured from the wild, were seized at Bangkok airport in Thailand. There are now estimated to be up to 100 animals living in the wild, with a captive-bred population of 500, with those at the Madagascar breeding centre being protected by armed guards. A further 20 animals are currently in quarantine in Madagascar, having been returned after seizure in South East Asia.
Support from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, and from other organisations, has been crucial in the success of the conservation programme, Young said.
The MBZ Fund continues to provide support for conservation in Madagascar. Three grants announced late last month were dedicated to conservation of three species classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, the Madagascar big-headed turtle, the Madagascar banana and The Tarzan chameleon.