A batch of fuzzy, cinnamon-colored ducklings successfully hatched in Madagascar could be the key, wildlife experts say, to saving the "world's rarest bird" from going extinct.
Eighteen Madagascar pochard ducklings were born in captivity and are now being reared at a specially built center in Antsohihy, Madagascar, the BBC reports. The ducklings are the next generation in a breed of birds thought to have gone extinct until conservationists spotted 22 of them at Lake Matsaborimena in northern Madagascar in 2006.
From that sighting, conservationists were able to collect 24 eggs which they bred in captivity, first in a hotel bathroom and then in the specially-built captive breeding center where the ducklings now reside, according to the BBC.
The center is operated by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, two Europe-based conservation organizations that launched an emergency effort to save the species in 2009.
"The ducklings represent an incredible step forward in the fight to save the pochard from extinction," Dr Glyn Young, a conservation biologist with Durrell, told the BBC. "The arrival of these ducklings has led to real hope that the birds can one day flourish again."
Because the species remains vulnerable to extinction, conservationists won't celebrate the ducklings' birth for too long. Instead they'll go back to studying the population closely to better understand why the species declined and how the new birds can best be released back into their natural habitat to survive, according to the BBC.
The goal is to release at least some of the captive-bred pochards back into the wild sometime next year.