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Brazilian Merganser Recovery Project

Original article from: IWWA / Sylvan Heights Bird Park 

The elusive Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus) not only ranks among the most endangered of all waterfowl, but rarest of all birds as well. Possibly fewer than 250 birds remain, and some conservationists fear that even this estimate may be optimistic.


The river habitat required by the Brazilian Merganser has suffered from staggering deforestation and permanent flooding from dams. The dwindling population of these fish-eating ducks is perhaps most numerous in Brazil's Serra de Canastra National Park, 500 miles northwest of San Paulo. Adding to the birds' plight, a series of forest fires devastated the national park and another area where the merganser was thought to have a stronghold.


Mike Lubbock was invited to a workshop in Belohorizonte, Brazil, in 2000 to help address the dire situation of the Brazilian Merganser. The workshop was organized by Wolf Bartman, of the Dortmund Zoo in Germany. A recovery plan was produced by experts from all three Brazilian Merganser range nations (Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay), plus Europe and the United States. They collated background information on the status and distribution, life history, and threats faced by the Brazilian Merganser and drew up a basic proposal for conservation action. 


Sightings of the merganser have declined over the years; however, while in Brazil, Mike managed to observe several Brazilian Mergansers in the wild on a nearby river. In 2003, Brazilian authorities, researchers and national and international NGOs finalized an Action Plan to save the Brazilian Merganser. The Brazilian Merganser Recovery Team was given "working group status" by the government.


Although not yet approved as part of the Action Plan, discussions have recently focused on the need for a Brazilian-based survival breeding program. In April of 2009, Mike Lubbock was again invited to Brazil at the request of Dr. Moacyr Carvalho Dias (Ave é Vida Institute), who operates a significant avian propagation facility. The purpose of the visit was to determine if Dr. Moacyr's site would be an appropriate facility for a possible merganser breeding program. The hope is the birds bred at the facility could ultimately be the foundation for a future wild release project, which would help replenish the declining population.


New pens had been constructed at Dr. Moacyr's facility, along with an incubator room with new, up-to-date European incubators installed. A brooder room was under construction along with a brand new room with rearing units connected to outside tanks, which were designed especially for diving ducks. The facility upgrades came about through the efforts of Robert Kooy, who has been overseeing Dr. Moacyr's birds - particularly the waterfowl - for the last years. Robert has raised waterfowl all his life and currently manages a very extensive family collection in Holland. Additionally, he received six months of advanced aviculture training from me at Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Breeding Center in North Carolina. Robert Kooy is considered to be one of the top experts in waterfowl propagation.


No other facility in Brazil is better equipped to be selected as a study and breeding site for this program, especially since Robert Kooy would be overseeing the husbandry of the mergansers. Despite this species being listed as Critically Endangered, there has been only minimal conservation action taken. We need enough funding to get a survival breeding program underway in Brazil. Global extinction of the Brazilian Merganser appears likely if current trends continue.


Conservation Actions Underway

From: IUCN Red List
The species is legally protected in all three range states. It occurs in three Brazilian national parks, two state parks and one private protected area (Braz et al. 2003), although there are no recent published records from Emas National Park. A species action plan has been published which outlines in detail its current status, ecology, threats and proposed conservation actions (Ibama 2006). In Argentina, sections of the Arroyo Uruzú are protected within the Uruguaí Provincial Park (P. Benstead verbally 2004). Regular monitoring of the population in Serra da Canastra National Park is conducted and in 2008 a team from the WWT and Terra Brasilis colour-ringed 14 individuals and fitted five of them with radio transmitters in order to increase knowledge of the species's movements and ecology (Braz et al. 2003, WWT 2008). Since then, 36 individuals have been banded, and the work has provided data on the species's sexual maturation and dispersal ability (Ribeiro et al. 2011). During one phase of a long-term study in Serra da Canastra National Park four pairs fledged 70 young in five years, representing a considerable contribution to the species's long-term survival and highlighting the importance of the park (Bruno et al. 2006). Nest boxes have recently been installed within the protected area (L. V. Lins in litt. 2012). Genetic studies are underway in the population, which will help to inform conservation decisions (Vilaça et al.2011). The WWT continues to raise funds for this species, and over the next 12 months hopes to continue monitoring and ecological research and develop education work to address the threats faced by the species (Anon. 2009). A captive breeding programme was initiated in 2011 at the Poços de Caldas Breeding Center in Minas Gerais. Two young have been successfully reared so far (L. V. Lins in litt. 2012).


Conservation Actions Proposed
Assess the status of the Bahia population (L. F. Silveira in litt. 1999, L. V. Lins in litt.2012). Continue to monitor the Serra da Canastra population. Develop and implement a fieldwork strategy using satellite images. Protect the watershed and riverine habitats of populations, especially in Bahia. Improve local awareness and promote riverbank protection. Conduct surveys in Paraguay to confirm local reports. Advocate for the expansion of the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in Brazil to include the newly discovered population in the Rio das Pedras (Bianchi et al. 2005).


Photogallery: Expedition 2010

Finding Brazilian mergansers in Serra da Canastra, Brazil

Written by Jan Harteman, 2010

In 2010 Jan Harteman joined a short expedition with Robert Kooij and Daan Witlox to Parque Nacional da Serra da Canastra, to find Brazilian mergansers (Mergus octosetaceus).

Below you can find photographs taken at this expedition. 



Recovery project 2011: first Brazilian mergansers hatched

In 2011, the first collected eggs of Brazilian mergansers hatched in captivity. 










Update project 2015: more Brazilian mergansers hatched

Written by Jan Harteman, september 2015


August 20st 2015 | We just received great news from Robert KooijIn 2015, 8 ducklings of the Brazilian merganser have hatched at Zooparque Itatiba (Itatiba, SP, Brazil). Eggs from wild birds were collected at several locations (Patrocínio and Jalapao). Currently, Zooparque Itatiba is home to 10 captive Brazilian mergansers. They have been collected from 5 nests in 3 locations. Two more adult birds are currently at the private collection of Criadouro de Aves Poços de Caldas (Poços de Caldas, MG, Brazil), which makes 12 captive birds globally known. All birds are part of the official breeding programma, under supervision of the Brazilian authorities including ICMBio and Terra Brasilis. The sex ratio of these birds is almost 50/50, which gives hope for the future of the species. 

Thanks to Robert Kooij (general manager of the zoo) for this amazing update! 



Above: Egg candling of a Brazilian merganser egg. Photo © Robert Kooij/ Zooparque Itatiba.



Above: Brazilian merganser hatchling. Photo © Robert Kooij/ Zooparque Itatiba.



Above: Daily weighing and measuring the ducklings. Photo © Robert Kooij/ Zooparque Itatiba.



Above: Juvenile Brazilian merganser. Photo © Robert Kooij/ Zooparque Itatiba.



Above: adult Brazilian mergansers. Photo © Robert Kooij/ Zooparque Itatiba.


Above: captive reared Brazilian mergsansers at Criadouro De Aves Poços de Caldas, MG, Brazil.


Above: Brazilian merganser ducklings in rearing tub, at Zooparque Itatiba (Brazil).


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