Friday, June 3, 2011

Why a duck? The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT)

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust logo

Who doesn't love a duck?  Their rounded, rubbery bills, their endearing waddling gait, their happy tail-waggling, their wonderful calls- it's hard to hate ducks.  Waterfowl have always been my personal favorites, and are also the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's (WWT) personal favorites.  WWT is a British nonprofit which Sir Peter Scott (among the greatest conservation biologists, who also helped found the World Wildlife Fund and create the IUCN Red Data Books)founded in 1946 and protects, expands, and creates wetlands and researches and protects wetland species.  WWT has nine wetland visitor centers scatted around the country which are all spectacular (Martin Mere is the only one I have visited so far during my UK trips, but it blew me away and I have heard the other centers are equally beautiful and amazing), but WWT does not work only throughout Great Britain.  WWT also saves many endangered species globally.  Following are a few examples:

Nene goose Branta sandvicensis  This Hawaiian goose species had undergone precipitous declines until 1949- when there were only 13 captive birds and no more than 30 wild birds- when it hit its lowest point.  During 1950 Sir Peter Scott brought several birds Hawaiian to their Slimbridge facility.  Captive breeding the species became a top priority.  WWT and a Hawaiian captive breeding program have steadily increased nene numbers ever since.  Including continued captive-raised releases, the wild population currently numbers more than 1,700 birds.

Red-breasted geese Branta ruficollis 56% of global red-breasted geese numbers have been lost over the past 10 years- use the Thomas Knight Comparative Population Decimation Scale of Doom© and we see that = all North & South American, African, Australian, Antarctic, and European humans die.  Also all Asians except those within China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, & Iran.  That would be many, many dead people, and it has been many, many dead red-breasted geese.

Madagascar pochard Aythya innotata  Since they are so endangered, I won't show you a Madagascar pochard comparative map- a common species now only has ~20 individuals remaining.  This critically endangered duck was assumed extinct until 2006 when several birds were resighted.  WWT, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Peregrine Fund work together on this species and Madagascar pochard eggs were taken into captivity to slow the species' decline and ensure a single catastrophe doesn't destroy the entire species, while also restoring wetlands where the pochards originated and reintroducing them into their native habitat.

Brazilian merganser Mergus octosetaceus  This critically endangered duck has also had a catastrophic population decline; currently there are only 100-300 left globally.  It lives only around fast flowing rivers and requires rapids within its territory, so river changes affect them disproportionately.  WWT supports conservation and research work concerning this species and conducted many initial ecological studies.

European water vole Arvicola amphibius  Although WWT started working with waterfowl and are waterfowl world authorities, you should not assume they restrict themselves just to ducks, or even just birds.  Although water vole populations are healthy globally, after Great Britain's American mink Neovision vision introduction, farming & waterway management technique changes, and intensive development, water vole numbers since the 1950's plummeted to only ~3-6% the size.  WWT has worked intensively and successfully at increasing water vole population sizes within their reserves.

Eurasian crane Grus grus  This species also is not globally endangered but had been functionally extinct (a few continental birds would occasionally fly over briefly during winter months) within Great Britain during the past ~400 years.  During 1979 a few remained behind, and their numbers were supplemented later through other migrants which also remained among the newly resident birds.  WWT, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT), and several other conservation agencies and funding agencies have coordinated a captive rearing & release program designed to boost Britain's wild numbers much more quickly than would happen without assistance.

The WWT does incredible work but needs your help.  Do send them some love through money,  have money directly drawn from your payroll (saving both you and WWT money), become a member, or volunteer your time.

Want to see photos or videos of nene?
Want to see photos or videos of red-breasted geese?
Want to see photos or videos (1, 2, 3, 4) of Madagascar pochards?
Want to see photos or videos of Brazilian mergansers?
Want to see photos or videos of European water voles?
Want to see photos or videos of European cranes?

I have worked among many waterfowl species at zoos, and I adore them.  Waterfowl conservation has also been an activity within which I have intensively involved myself.  Many waterfowl species readily captive breed, which makes captive breeding & release projects a good strategy when their populations are imperiled.  But watching waterfowl doesn't require a zoo- almost everywhere globally has several common waterfowl species, so go outside and watch them yourselves!  Waterfowl are usually nearly the most easily found wild animals so duck watching is an absolute pleasure.  I have also been very fortunate and have not only seen several different wild crane species but also have worked among most crane species in zoos, including artificial insemination and hand-rearing, ensuring that captive populations maximize genetic material.  Finding cranes is trickier than waterfowl, but if you look into it you may find there are some near you!  It is worth researching whether local opportunities exist- cranes are majestic birds, large flocks are a natural wonder, and the sound flocks produce is mind-blowing.

Want to learn more about these animals?  Check out the following links/books:

The Swans by Sir Peter Scott
 The Swans by Sir Peter Scott himself- older but still quite good.

Ducks, Geese and Swans by Janet Kear
 Ducks, Geese, and Swans by Janet Kear.  Janet Kear also used to work for WWT, as the curator at Martin Mere, and was the president of the British Ornithologists' Union as well as editor of their prestigious ornithological journal, Ibis.  This two volume set is expensive and worth every penny if you want the best reference book on waterfowl currently available.

Waterfowl by Steven Madge
 Waterfowl by Steven Madge is a much cheaper alternative and is still extremely good.

Handbook of the Birds of the World volume 1
 Handbook of the Birds of the World, volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks.  Amazing book, and amazingly expensive. If you have the money and you love birds this set covers every species on the planet with a summary of what is known about them.

Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry, and Conservation by David Ellis, George Gee and Claire Mirande
 Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry, and Conservation by David Ellis, George Gee, & Claire Mirande.  The most current and complete book on cranes available.
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