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World’s rarest birds, once thought extinct, get a new home in Madagascar

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Watching the birds he helped raise from hatchlings fly freely over a remote lake in northern Madagascar was one of conservationist Peter Cranswick’s proudest moments.

He and his colleagues have successfully released 21 Madagascar pochards — the world’s rarest bird — into the wild this month.

It’s the latest step in a years-long effort to save the species from the brink of extinction. 

“It’s taken nine years to get to this point, and a massive amount of sweat and blood — literally, in cases,” Cranswick, program development advisor with Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

The last of their kind 

The little brown ducks were once believed to be completely extinct.

They hadn’t been seen for 15 years, and the Madagascar wetlands they called home had been devastated by pollution, sedimentation, invasive species and other threats. 

Then, in 2006, a group of 25 Madagascar pochards were discovered on Lake Matsaborimena — a small, remote lake in the country’s north.

They were believed to be the last of their kind.

The ducklings were raised in captivity before being released into the wild. (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust )

“We realized that although they were having ducklings, all the ducklings were starving when they got to about a month [to] six weeks old,” Cranswick said.

“So we literally took three clutches, 24 eggs, from the wild, hatched them by the side of the lake, and then drove them to the nearest town that had electricity and water and, having made no preparations, reared them in a hotel bathroom.”

To save the ducks, the conservationists continued their creative and resourceful course. 

Over the next two years, they created an official breeding centre for the Madagascar pochards in partnership with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Peregrine Fund and the Madagascar government. 

They currently have about 100 of the birds in captivity, but the long-term goal has always been to release them back into the wild.

To do that, they first had to find a suitable home — a body of water with access to food, remote enough to protect the birds from human encroachment, but close enough that they could be safely transported there.

They settled on Lake Sofia in the north of the country.

World’s 1st floating aviaries 

The second challenge was to ensure that the birds didn’t fly off in search of wetlands.

“To make sure it stays there or give it the best fighting chance, you put it in an aviary and it gets to see its new site for a week or so before you let it out,” Cranswick said.

“But because this was a diving duck, we need to put it on the water.”

Conservationists transport the ducks to their floating aviaries. ( Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust )

So they built the world’s first floating aviaries, or bird enclosures, converted from Scottish salmon farming cages.

“We went to the manufacturers of these and pleaded to make a duck-sized version of one these that would fit on a shallow lake,” he said.

“It’s come in kit form, and we’ve had to export it and get it through customs and get it on the back of a tractor and then get it up to this lake that’s literally on the back end of beyond.”

Flying free 

The whole process took months of travelling, building and testing, Cranswick said.

The ducklings were hatched in October, and just before they grew big enough to fly, they were transported 200 kilometres over a dirt road to Lake Sofia and reared in their floating aviaries.

This Madagascar pochard swims inside a floating aviary on Lake Sofia. (Ben Sadd/Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust )

All the effort was worth it when the ducks were successfully released this week, Cranswick.

“To see that duck flying around the lake, and then not flying off, but flying back, coming to this little corner of the lake and going back into aviary,” Cranswick said. 

“I’ve been lucky to have lots of fulfilling, rewarding moments in conservation, but that is up there.”

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Peter Cranswick produced by Imogen Birchard. 

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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