Harteman Wildfowl, presented by Jan Harteman

Ex-situ conservation of the Laysan teal

By Koen Thijs, infolaysan@gmail.com 

 

Introduction

Many years the Laysan teal or Laysan duck (Anas laysanensis Rothschild) survived on a small island (400 ha) in the middle of the huge Pacific Ocean. It is a miracle it is still not extinct. Moreover, this island contains a 200 ha lake with brakisch, so useless water. Thus for water they rely on some small fresh water ponds that dry out during hot summers.

 

Laysan duck

 

Besides this rough living conditions, various anthropogenic threats led several times to a dramatic reduction of the species numbers. For example, the introduction of rats in 1903 caused the death of many ducks and only seven ducks survived. In 1930 ornithologists didn’t succeed to find more than one female. Thereafter the population underwent continously ups and downs. With a total actual population of 1000 birds in the wild, the future of this duck stays uncertain.

 

A successful conservation of the Laysan teal starts with a good knowledge of this species. Fortunately ornithologists study this species intensively in the wild and succeeded to set up a new population on a second island. Also an healthy ex-situ population has an enormeous value as back-up population. Recent events, like the disease botulism or the occurence of some huge tsunamis, underline the necessity of a captive breeding programme. Since the import in 1958 of some specimens to the American and European mainland, hundreds of birds live and breed in zoological gardens or in private aviculturist collections. But these collections urgently need a good coordination and check up for purity.

 

Laysan ducks

Above: Laysan teal (drake in back, female in front)

 

Ex-situ conservation

Ex-situ conservation is the process of protecting an endangered species outside its natural habitat, for example by removing part of the population from a threatened habitat and placing it in a new location, within the care of humans. Within the Laysan Teal ex-situ conservation programme a breeding programme is coordinated to maintain a living genebank. The project not only provide housing and care for this critically endangered species, but has also an educational value.

 

This project is not enough to save the species form extinction, it will be used as a last resort,  besides in-situ conservation because it can impossible contain its symbiotic counterparts which, over time, might help a species adapt to its changing surroudings. Instead, ex-situ conservation removes the species from its natural ecological contexts, preserving it under semi-isolated conditions whereby natural evolution and adaptation processes are either temporarily halted or altered by introducing the specimen to an unnatural habitat.

 

Laysan ducks

Above: a flock of Laysan teal

 

Above: How does aviculture help the endangered Laysan teal?

 


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