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  'Mermaid' sea creature at risk
Updated 13 February 2002, 19.50
Dugong
A strange sea animal which used to make people believe in mermaids is in danger of disappearing off the planet.

The dugong, sometimes known as the seacow, is threatened by pollution and a shrinking food supply.

One expert says the slow-moving creature has already vanished from some areas, including parts of Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Hunted

Fact File
Dugong facts
Also known as a manatee in the Caribbean
Ancient sailors believed it was a mermaid
Eats almost nothing but seagrass

And scientists think Africa's dugongs are much more endangered than its elephants.

Boat traffic, coastal development and fishing nets are the biggest threats.

The animal is also hunted for meat and jewellery.

Unfortunately, the female dugong rarely has more than one calf in its life and none when food is short.

Experts say there must be more cooperation between countries with dugong populations.

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