Madagascar pond-heron with internuptial plumage © Gilles ADT

The Madagascar Pond Heron Ardeola idae is unique for its beige-brown plumage, which is striped black during the non-breeding season, and its beautiful white plumage with a bright blue beak during the breeding season. Around 1,100 breeding birds lived on the islands of Madagascar, Aldabra and the two French islands of Europe and Mayotte off the east coast of Africa in 2016 (Rabarisoa & al., 2020).

Due to its low distribution and its population decline, the pond heron from Madagascar is classified as “Endangered” on the global red list of the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) and classified as “critically endangered” on the French red list. The loss and deterioration of wetlands, which provide ideal breeding and feeding sites for the bird, the poaching of eggs and chicks, and the disturbance of species threaten the survival of the Madagascar pond heron.

Of the four islands, Mayotte is a major breeding site with the second largest number of breeding pairs. In the 2019-2020 breeding season, 279 pairs were registered. In the northwest of Mayotte is the Ambato lagoon, an important feeding and nesting place for the Madagascar pond heron. Ambato has owned major bird colonies since 2015. However, the bird colonies have not settled since 2018 due to the deterioration of their location, although the individuals continue to feed on the wet meadow of the lagoon.

As a result, the Association for the Study and Protection of Birds in Mayotte (Groupe d’Etudes et de Protection des Oiseaux de Mayotte, GEPOMAY) began restoring this site in August 2020. Restoration work also focused on Malamani, an important wetland meadow west of Mayotte as part of the European LIFE BIODIV’OM project.

Wet meadows are important reservoirs for biodiversity and support many species of amphibians, reptiles, insects and birds, including the Madagascar pond heron. In Mayotte, wet meadows have declined due to pollution, infrastructure development, urbanization, unsustainable farming practices and invasive species, all of which affects vegetation growth and is critical to promoting biodiversity including birds.

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Several environmental actors in Mayotte are involved in Ambato’s restoration efforts, subject to a prefectural biotope decree. GEPOMAY leads the implementation of the Life BIODIV’OM project on the island and is responsible for the implementation of protective measures to protect the pond herons in Madagascar. In collaboration with two local associations – Jardin de M’Tsangamouji and Mlezi Maore – initial restoration work was carried out in August 2020 to prevent the growth of taro (Colocasia esculenta), an invasive plant species. To date, almost 2,000 m2 – a quarter of the invaded area – has been restored.

GEPOMAY restores damp meadows with the associations Mlezi maore and Jardin de Mtsangamouji © GEPOMAY

Further restoration work has also been carried out on the Malamani meadow to remove invasive plant species, notably the Candle Bush (Senna alata) and Acacia Mangium plants. “These restoration measures were a success, as native plants quickly colonized the meadows in the weeks that followed,” says Emilien Dautrey, director of GEPOMAY. According to Emilien, this is just the beginning. “In the near future we plan to establish partnerships with breeders and set up a more regular rotation of the zebus in order to avoid undergrazing and overgrazing and to keep wet meadows in good ecological condition,” he continues.

In addition, Jardin de M’Tsangamouji and the Departmental Council will increase waste collection on the Ambato wet meadow. In addition, an educational body will be set up to give public presentations on the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Ambato wetlands. In Malamani, the French Agency for Biodiversity will continue to monitor the site and issue tickets for environmental violations, particularly illegal embankments.

Wet meadow of the Ambato lagoon © Florent BIGNON

In December 2019, GEPOMAY brought in an employee of the French BirdLife partner ‘La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux’ (LPO) to take part in the first mission to mark Madagascar Pond-Herons, a world first. His experience in Mayotte and his knowledge of the species contributed to the successful completion of the mission, ”concludes Florent Bignon, international overseas project manager at LPO France. In Mayotte, further conservation efforts are being made to save the pond heron from Madagascar. By combining all of these multidirectional conservation efforts, it is hoped that the populations of this endangered bird can be protected.

This work on the Madagascar pond heron is a much needed contribution to the implementation of the international action plan for the conservation of the Madagascar pond heron, which was compiled by the Secretariat of the BirdLife Africa partnership and adopted in 2008 as part of the nature conservation agreement of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterfowl (AEWA) . The Life BIODIV’OM project was advised by Rivo Rabarisoa, the coordinator of the wetland program at Asity Madagascar (BirdLife in Madagascar) and a leading expert in this species.

Download the International Action Plan for Individual Species for the Conservation of Madagascar’s Little Heron here.

GEPOMAY

The Association for the Study and Protection of Birds in Mayotte – GEPOMAY has been carrying out a surveillance since 2010 to gain knowledge of the numbers and phenology of Madagascar pond herons in Mayotte. The Mayotte Association also coordinates a National Action Plan in favor of the species (2019-2023) and has been running a European project since 2018, the Life BIODIV’OM, coordinated nationally by the LPO and in Mayotte by GEPOMAY. The aim of this program is to take action to reduce threats to species: fighting poaching, raising awareness to reduce disturbance, restoring and protecting species’ habitats.

Life BIODIV’OM project

Life BIODIV’OM is a European project that is 60% financed by the European Union and coordinated by the LPO. The main objective of this program, which started in September 2018 for a period of five years, is to improve the status of the populations of three species of birds, two species of grouper and one habitat, all of which are threatened, in five overseas areas: the Madagascar Pond – Heron in Mayotte, the Reunion Cuckoo in Reunion Island, the White Breasted Thrasher in Martinique, the Atlantic Goliath Grouper in French Guiana and Saint Martin, the Nassau Grouper in Saint Martin and the savannahs in Guyana.