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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 14:40 GMT
Sea cow suffers in the wild
Sea cows belong to the Sirenia order, linking them to mermaids
Manatees and dugongs are the last living sea cows
A sea cow named Pig is receiving round-the-clock care after finding life in the wild too dangerous to handle.

The orphan dugong, who was hand-reared in the Sea World theme park in Queensland, Australia, was found scarred and malnourished eight months after being released into Moreton Bay on the Gold Coast.


He hasn't socialised well

Marine expert Trevor Long
"We have staff with Pig for 20 and 22 hours a day because he needs a lot of nourishment; he needs to be grazing all day," marine sciences manager Trevor Long told Australia's ABC News Online.

"He's got some scars and marks on him where he interacted with other dugong, where I'd say he was beaten up by other males so he hasn't socialised well."

Pig's progress

Pig is the youngest dugong reared in captivity to be returned to the wild.

Raised by humans, Pig was not welcomed by other dugong males.Photo courtesy of Sea World.
The vegetarian dugong was bottle-fed to gain weight
He was found as a stranded newborn four years ago on Forrest Beach weighing only 19 kilograms. Staff nurtured him to a healthy 150 kg.

He was released in stages, first adapting to a saltwater lake to get him used to other marine animals and to foraging for sea grass.

The dugong then made his way to Moreton Bay, wearing a satellite tracking collar to allow scientists to check his condition.

Sea sirens

Popular folklore holds that dugong inspired the mermaid myth.

Lonely sailors from antiquity were said to have mistaken the dugong for women because they swim upright and hold their calves to their breast with their fin while nursing.

The large mammal is surprisingly delicate. Even in ideal conditions, a population will only grow 5% a year.

The dugong could become extinct in 25 years, the United Nations Environment Program warned earlier this year.

Life skills

In Queensland, veterinarians are undecided about Pig's future as he recuperates.

"Pig has settled back into the routines at Sea World very well and his food intake has slowly increased towards what we feel is a reasonable level," veterinarian Wendy Blanshard told BBC News Online.

Coastal development has taken a huge toll
Sea cows are facing "catastrophic decline", the UN says
"Because of the low nutrient levels in salad vegetables and sea grass, our expectation is that any improvement he makes will be moderately slow."

Vets believe his lack of life skills made him unable to assimilate to his natural habitat.

Still, the intrepid mammal was able to overcome major obstacles such as sharks, boats and negotiating tides and currents to stay alive, Mr Long said.

"Our hope is that Pig's condition continues to improve and that his story will assist in the education process about his vulnerable species."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

13 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
15 Jan 00 | Americas
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
23 Aug 02 | Health
02 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
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