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Aug 15

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First captive breeding of Brazilian merganser in Zooparque Itatiba

Almost extinct, the Brazilian Merganser was never bred in aviculture before

Marcelo Godoy, O Estado de S.Paulo 

Translation into English by Pedro Seixas, Portugal
 
The ducklings bred from eggs collected in the wild took 2 years to reach sexual maturity and choose their mate, today they are kept in separate aviaries and closely watched by 6 surveillance cameras.  . Photo: Nilton Fukuda/Estadão
ITATIBA - They have grey and black down and like that will be their colors when they grow up. Four ducklings are monitored 24h per day by surveillance cameras and their Keepers. So much work is justified by the simple fact of being the first of their species, the Brasilian Merganser, to be born in captivity. It took three years of hard work involving different research centers, under the coordination of Instituto Chico Mendes da Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio), until the eggs of one couple kept on Zooparque Itatiba (SP) started to hatch on the 4th of August. 
The Brazilian Merganser (Mergus ostosetaceus) is one of the most rare waterfowl in the world. Critically endangered - it has already vanished from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay -, today it is found in only four places in Brazil: Serra da Canastra (MG),  Chapada dos Veadeiros (GO),  Jalapão (TO) and in Patrocínio (MG). 
In total, researchers estimate that only 200 individuals are left in the wild."This is the most endangered species of waterfowl of the Western Hemisphere", said Luís Fábio Silveira, curator of the bird section of the Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo (USP). 
This species of duck needs clear water with rapids and vegetation on the shore to live in. It feed of insects and fish captured when they are diving. . "Pollution, Mining and Hunting are main villains of this species" said Robert Frank Kooij, general manager of Zooparque Itatiba. 
It has been a little bit over a month now, since the keepers collected the eggs of two couples of Brazilian Mergansers - the Zooparque keeps five couples, that were born here after the eggs were collected in Serra da Canastra and Jalapão in order to begin the captivity breeding program. 
Kooij took part of the team that went to collect the eggs in the Wild. "When the ducklings grow up, their parents kick them out of the area, so that next year, they can have a new clutch. Each couple needs a territory as large as 6 to 9 km long." Normally, the Brazilian Merganser lives near the springs. The female lays five to six eggs, but the couple only raises three ducklings.
 

The first time of  the Brazilian Merganser in captivity

 

Surveillance
The ducklings that hatched from eggs collected in the wild took two years to reach maturity and to choose their own mate, today are kept in separate aviaries and closely watched by six surveillance cameras. Everything is recorded and later seen by their keepers, that arrive around 7 a.m.. They do their daily reports over everything that happens with the animals and their behaviors. "We know so little of this species", said Kooij. 
The researchers managed their reproduction - in total, eight eggs were collected. The first four ducklings are in a small maternity of 1 m², where they eat a fish based feed and where they have a small swimming pool and a heater.  
They are gaining 5 to 10 grams of weight every day. For now the ducklings share the room with a baby golden conure, another threatened species. Later on, they will be taken to another sector of the Zooparque know as Nursery, before they are taken outdoors, the same type of habitat as their parents. 
Four eggs are still in the incubator and are examined daily. The new ducklings will be born within a few days. Kooij's plan is to make five more aviaries in the Zoo to reach a ten breeding couples total. " I believe we can reach the 40 to 50 individuals in the next two years".  
Within five years, the researchers want to start reintroducing the ducks back to the wild, boosting their numbers and taking them to other places, besides the ones they live today in the wild.  
Just like Zooparque, other Zoos in Brazil, such as São Paulo and Foz do Iguaçu (PR), should start to make part of the conservation plan - Plano de Ação Nacional para a Conservação do Pato-Mergulhão, do ICMBio. 
Visitors
For now, Zooparque visitors - the biggest private Zoo in Brazil, with 189 species and a total of a thousand animals - cannot see the ducks. Kooij hopes that in the year 2018 that will be possible. The Brazilian Merganser is not the only endangered species that the Zoo works with, there are others for example the golden headed lion tamarin.
Above: one of the breeding pairs and some of the ducklings.
Read more about the Brazilian merganser recovery project at the next pages: 

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