By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — The Central Park Zoo's newest animals are no ordinary ducklings.
Eight Chinese merganser ducklings — a breed of extremely endangered sea ducks — were hatched at the zoo on April 26, Wildlife Conservation Society officials announced Tuesday.
They were first such ducklings to be bred successfully in captivity, officials said of the scaly-sided mergansers, a species of sea duck found in eastern Asia.
"These hatchlings are a step in the right direction for the species," Jeff Sailer, Director of City Zoos, said in a statement. "Chinese merganser populations are rapidly deteriorating and by successfully breeding them in captivity, we may be able to ensure a future for this species as a whole."
Through its captive breeding program, zoo officials said they hope to discover answers about conserving the species, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List with populations between 1,000 and 2,500 — and falling.
These ducklings — like other species of waterfowl — are in decline due to habitat destruction, pollution, illegal hunting and human disturbance of their breeding territory, zoo officials said.
The Central Park Zoo may be small at only 5 acres, but it maintains the largest public collection of sea ducks and is the only zoo in North America with Chinese mergansers.