Thai vets nurture lost dugong calf with milk and sea grass

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Marium the dugong calf swims under a boat hull near the Libong island, in Trang province, southern Thailand, on May 23, 2019. (Sirachai Arunrugstichai via AP)

BANGKOK – A dugong baby, a large oceanic mammal, who has developed a bond with humans after being separated from his mother and lost in southern Thailand, is being fed by marine experts in the hope that one day he will be able to fend for himself. itself.

The 5-month-old female dugong, called Marium, has become an Internet hit in Thailand after images of marine biologists embraced it and fed milk and seagrass on social networks.

The dugong is a species of marine mammal similar to the American manatee and can grow up to about 3.4 meters (11 feet) in length. Its state of conservation is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Mario was seen alone near a beach on the island of Ko Poda in Krabi province in April. Later, officials tried to free him in a dugong habitat on the coast of another island, but he swam away.

Veterinarians and volunteers leave every day in canoes to locate Marium near the dugong habitat on the island of Ko Libong. Do not swim with the pack and usually come directly to them, then follow them to shallower waters, where they feed on milk and sea grass, similar to their natural diet, up to 15 times a day while also receiving health checks .

The Marium caretakers believe that a bond with humans has been formed, but they are also attracted to the shape of the bottom canoes, perhaps as a surrogate mother.

“She is tied and tries to swim and hold on to the boat as if she were her mother and when we are swimming she came and went under our arms, it’s almost like the way she would get under her mother,” said Nantarika Chansue, director. from the Aquatic Animal Research Center of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences of Chulalongkorn University, which advises Marium’s caretakers.

“So I think that not only are they human, but anything that looks like another dugong to which she would join,” Nantarika said.

Marium has achieved fame in social networks, and Thai images have widely published images of their links with their human guardians. It also attracts crowds on the island of Libong, where you often see the feeding of a crowd of people crowding on the seashore.

Veterinarians say that they should continue to take care of Marium for at least another year until they can wean them from bottled milk, after which they hope that they can take care of themselves without their help.

Nantarika said that dugongs generally stop feeding on milk around 18 months and generally spend about eight years under the care of their mothers. She said Marium would have to be trained later to separate from humans, but at this point, the emphasis should be on her survival.

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