Dugong that won Thais' hearts dies with plastic in tummy

Veterinarians performing an autopsy on Mariam at Trang province marine park. The photo was taken and released yesterday by Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Mariam the dugong being cared for on May 23 at Phuket
Mariam the dugong being cared for on May 23 at Phuket Marine Biological Centre on Libong island, Trang province in southern Thailand. The orphaned baby dugong, rescued off a beach in Krabi province, became a social media star.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • A sick baby dugong whose fight for recovery won hearts in Thailand and cast a spotlight on ocean conservation has died from an infection exacerbated by bits of plastic lining her stomach, officials said yesterday.

Mariam washed up in shallow waters off south-western Thailand months ago and photos of her nuzzling playfully next to rescuers quickly went viral.

The discovery soon after of another orphaned dugong brought the sea cows celebrity status, the attention of a Thai princess - who named the second one "Jamil" - and round-the-clock webcasts giving viewers a front-row seat to feedings and treatment.

But Mariam died just after midnight after going into shock and efforts to resuscitate her failed, said Mr Chaiyapruk Werawong, head of Trang province marine park.

"She died from a blood infection and pus in her stomach," he said, adding that they found small amounts of plastic waste in her intestinal tract.

An autopsy showed that the plastic had caused obstructions in the animal's stomach, leading to inflammation and gas build-up, veterinarian Nantarika Chansue posted on Facebook.

"We could partially treat the respiratory infection but the obstruction of plastic rubbish... could not be cured," she said in the post, calling for Mariam's death to serve as a lesson.


Veterinarians performing an autopsy on Mariam at Trang province marine park. The photo was taken and released yesterday by Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. PHOTO: AGENCE
FRANCE-PRESSE

The dugongs are the latest marine creatures to make headlines in Thailand, whose plastic-choked waters are also a threat to habitats.

Both the animals were found in southern Thailand, home to about 250 of the sea cows, which are closely related to the manatee and classified as vulnerable.

INCURABLE

We could partially treat the respiratory infection but the obstruction of plastic rubbish... could not be cured.

'' VETERINARIAN NANTARIKA CHANSUE, urging people to learn from Mariam's death.

Mariam's death was also announced on the Facebook page of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. The post quickly garnered more than 11,000 shares and thousands of comments mourning the loss, while a meme with a picture of Mariam and "RIP" circulated online.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 18, 2019, with the headline 'Dugong that won Thais' hearts dies with plastic in tummy'. Print Edition | Subscribe