Indonesia: Stranded dugong slowly recovers under intensive care

Markus Makur, The Jakarta Post 23 Jan 16;

Local authorities in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) have reported that a young male dugong rescued from a beach on Kanawa island, West Manggarai regency, earlier this month, has shown signs of recovery after receiving intensive treatment.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Friday, NTT Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) technical division head Maman Surahman said the protected animal, which was found with several wounds on its body, was now able to swim and regularly consume seagrass and goat milk.

A team of veterinarians and officers from several institutions, including the BKSDA, NTT’s Komodo National Park and the Bali Safari Marine and Safari Park, were assigned to jointly take care of the dugong.

“Looking at its physical improvement, the dugong will need another four or five months to fully recover and safely return to the sea,” Maman said, adding that the team had also provided the animal with infant formula as food supplement to speed up its recovery.

The 120-centimeter-long animal, weighing around 30 kilograms, first appeared in the shallows near Kanawa island on Jan. 3.

Nine days later, the same animal was found stranded at a rocky beach in the western part of the island by three foreign tourists, including Jeff Foster, an American marine biologist.

While waiting for support from local authorities, the tourists volunteered to take care of the dugong, which was too weak to move at that time. Apart from protecting the dugong from sunlight, they also fed the animal with goat milk bought from local residents once every two hours.

“The dugong suffered several wounds on its back and stomach. Deeper wounds were also found on its right cheek and back,” Maman said, adding that such wounds had probably been caused by a fishing net.

For both safety and security reasons, Maman said the rescue team had decided to let the dugong stay in the waters off Kanawa island while putting it under intensive surveillance to monitor its movements and recovery.

A local resort complex has also agreed to provide the team members with a base camp to carry out their duties.

The dugong, one of the rarest mammals in Indonesia, can be found from Madagascar and East Africa to India and Australia.

With a natural lifespan of over 70 years and slow rate of reproduction, the dugong is vulnerable to extinction even without the interference of human beings.

An estimated 1,000 to 10,000 dugongs survive in Indonesian waters. However, that number is believed to have decreased significantly over the past few years.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, meanwhile, has listed the animal a vulnerable species.

Nyoman Suartawan, a supervisor from the Bali Marine and Safari Park, said the Gianyar-based park had previously deployed four officers to assist the NTT BKSDA provide intensive treatment to the stranded dugong.

As of Friday, he added, the park had left one officer in Kanawa to help local authorities take care of the dugong and educate local fishermen on how to give emergency treatment to a stranded or wounded dugong.

Suartawan also confirmed that the recently rescued dugong was in much better shape than it had been last week.

“Many wounds on the dugong’s body have already started to heal,” he said.

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