A genny instead of an aviary

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  20. 03. 2021

Even a single electricity generator can increase the chances of a critically endangered species’ survival. This is not some theoretical example, but a cold, hard fact. Last year, we financed just such a generator at Brazil’s Itatiba Zoo.

Brazilian merganser, photo: Zooparque Itatiba Brazilian merganser, photo: Zooparque Itatiba

Located near the city of Itatiba north of Sao Paulo, this zoo is the only one in the world to keep the beautiful and, unfortunately, critically endangered Brazilian merganser. You may know other species of Merganser ducks from our waters. They have an elongated, light-coloured body and a thin beak that is curved at the end. In contrast, the Brazilian merganser is not only black-grey in colour, but also infinitely rarer. In the 1940s, it was already considered extinct, and in recent decades its numbers in the wild were reported as less than 250 individuals. The latest estimates even put it at just 50 individuals. This makes it one of the most endangered waterfowl in the world.

In the past, the Brazilian merganser lived in Brazil as well as in Argentina and Paraguay, but today it resides in just a few sites in Brazil. It requires shallow, clean, fast-flowing rivers – and that’s where it has its stumbling block. The construction of dams, forest clearance and soybean cultivation, as well as diamond mining, have deprived it of its natural habitat. Therefore, it was decided to create an assurance population of Brazilian mergansers in captivity. Zooparque Itatiba volunteered for the job.

In 2014, they began collecting some of the eggs from the nests of wild Brazilian mergansers. In the first six years, 20 eggs were taken from six different nests, of these they managed to rear 17 ducklings. In the meantime, however, the first of these young had reached adulthood, and in 2017 Itatiba Zoopark announced the successful breeding of the first generation of Brazilian mergansers in captivity. Shortly afterwards, our bird curator, Antonín Vaidl, visited and we then decided to support the construction of new aviaries at Itatiba Zoopark.

Photo: Zooparque ItatibaPhoto: Zooparque Itatiba

Everything was arranged, the money was just about to be sent, when, at the end of 2019, we received a message from the local director, Robert Kooi, that the aviaries should wait. He wrote that they’d had two power cuts – one for eight hours, the other for three – all in a single week. At the time, there were only two Brazilian merganser eggs in the hatcheries, but had it happened in the peak of the season, when there would have been many more eggs in the incubators and freshly hatched chicks huddled under the heating lamps, it would have dealt a crushing blow to the conservation programme. So, all the paperwork had to be started anew – but Zoopark Itatiba was able to purchase a powerful generator thanks to our support.

Photo: Zooparque ItatibaPhoto: Zooparque Itatiba

Last season was Itatiba Zoopark’s most successful to date. “For the first time, we celebrated a total of 15 ducklings,” reads the summary report for 2020. “For the first time, one female laid 7 fertilized eggs and they all hatched. And, for the first time, we have second-generation ducklings.” There are now a total of 40 Brazilian mergansers at Itatiba Zoopark. And we plan to continue supporting its conservation.