A newborn dugong that became lost off the coast of southern Thailand is being cared for by marine professionals in the hope that it would be able to survive for itself one day.
Marium, a female dugong, has become an internet sensation in Thailand after photos of marine researchers cuddling and giving it milk and sea grass circulated on social media.
The dugong is a marine mammal that may grow to be around 11 feet long. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified its conservation status as vulnerable. In April, Marium was discovered alone on a beach on Ko Poda island in Krabi province. Later, officials attempted to release her into a dugong habitat off the shore of another island, but she escaped. Each day, veterinarians and volunteers paddle out in canoes to find Marium near the dugong habitat off the coast of Ko Libong island.
She does not swim with the herd, but instead approaches them and follows them into shallower water, where she is fed milk and sea grass, similar to her normal diet, up to 15 times per day, while also undergoing health checks.
Marium’s keepers believe it has built a link with people, but it is also drawn to the design of boats’ undersides. ‘She’s connected and tries to swim and cling to the boat as if it were her mother, and while we’re swimming she’d come and tuck under our arms,’ said Nantarika Chansue, head of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Veterinarian Science, who advises Marium’s carers. It’s almost like she’d snuggle beneath her mother’s arm.
‘So I believe she would be bonded to anything that looks like another dugong,’ Nantarika explained. Marium has gained popularity on social media, with photographs of it bonding with its human guardians extensively circulated in Thai media. She also draws audiences to Libong Island, where its feeding is frequently witnessed by large groups gathered along the coastline.
Veterinarians believe Marium will need to be cared for at least another year before it can be weaned off of bottled milk, after which it should be able to care for itself without their assistance.
According to Nantarika, dugongs normally cease feeding on milk at approximately 18 months and spend around eight years in the care of their moms.