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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 15:04 GMT
Rare catch for Tanzania fishermen
By David Lewis
BBC, Tanzania

The mammal is said to be the most endangered in Africa (pic: WWF)
Fishermen have caught a dugong, also known as a sea cow, some 70 years after the last confirmed sighting of the mammal in Tanzanian waters.

The two-metre-long female weighed 300 kilogrammes and drowned after being trapped in drift nets in Rufiji Delta.

The dugong was once common along the Tanzanian coast, but years of hunting and loss of habitat have left it the most endangered large mammal in Africa.

Conservation groups are operating a dugong awareness campaign in Tanzania.

They plan to call in experts to establish more information about the elusive lifestyles of these rare creatures.

Next catch

The WWF, which funds a conservation programme alongside the Born Free Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), believes that although the animal was brought in dead, the fact that fishermen caught it at all is a breakthrough.

The group has spent the last three years working with fishing communities up and down the coast, raising awareness about the dugong and encouraging fishermen to report sightings of the animal.

Steven Mariki, WWF's director of conservation in Dar es Salaam, told the BBC that the Rufiji Delta catch was proof the organisation's work was paying off.

He said fishermen could now see the benefits of helping the conservationists in providing information to save dugongs from extinction.

The next one brought in, he hopes, will be alive.

Dugongs are herbivorous and depend almost entirely on beds of seagrass for food.

They were mistaken for mermaids by ancient sailors.

Sea cow suffers in the wild
28 Nov 02  |  Media reports
UN sounds dugong alert
13 Feb 02  |  Science/Nature

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