Abu Dhabi saves and rehabilitates dugong calf

Eudore R. Chand

ABU DHABI 18 April 2023: The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has successfully rescued and rehabilitated a dugong calf, which was discovered abandoned at the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. EAD rangers found the young dugong alone, without its mother, and far away from any herd. Strong winds may have contributed to his separation from his mother and group. The dugong was named “Malqout,” which means “saved” and “whose owner is not known” in Arabic, reflecting his condition.

EAD’s marine species team assessed Malqout’s health and, with the help of experts from the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Regional Office, confirmed that he was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition due to his unstable condition and low weight. The team decided to transfer Malqout to a specialised facility in Abu Dhabi, where animal husbandry experts and qualified veterinarians would provide him with the necessary care. Local zoological experts, Worldwide Zoo Consultants (WZC), provided veterinary consultancy and specialist animal husbandry care, said Wam.

Malqout received round-the-clock human supervision due to his poor health, and the team provided him with an environment that allowed him to learn natural behaviour patterns and ensured his long-term growth. The experienced veterinarians provided him with special formula food to treat dehydration and malnutrition. Under their care, Malqout grew from 60 cm to nearly two metres long and received a clean bill of health.

Since rehabilitation, the best option for Malqout is to continue living under consistent human supervision. The Agency and its partners have the necessary resources and expertise to care for him, and the team of veterinarians and dugong experts will monitor his condition regularly. Malqout’s survival story is a testament to the quality of care available in Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD’s Secretary-General, said, “Malqout’s story is one we want to share with the world as it is a unique and rare occasion, as dugongs are fragile animals and rely on their mother during the first two years of their life. This made us realise the task ahead, and that Malqout would need around-the-clock monitoring and rearing to ensure his survival. During his rehabilitation Malqout has grown profoundly and is doing very well, and his case is a perfect example of how local and international collaboration can help save species around the world, as our team of experts at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi worked closely with experts through the CMS office, and Dugong MoU, as well as with specialised marine vets, to ensure that we provide the best care possible.”

Notoriously difficult task

Rouba Abou-Atieh, Executive Coordinator – CMS Office – Abu Dhabi, added, “Rescuing and rehabilitating stranded juvenile dugongs is a notoriously difficult task. Except for Malqout, there has been only one other documented instance of successful long-term care of a neonate dugong rescued in 1998, which currently resides at Sydney Aquarium. There are no records of successfully releasing hand-reared dugongs back into the wild.”

She added, “Malqout’s situation is exceptionally unusual, as he was fortunate enough to receive advanced veterinary care and marine facilities in the UAE after his rescue in 2019. Nonetheless, because of the necessary care he received, he will be unable to survive a return to the wild and will continue to need ongoing human care in a simulated setting to maintain his long-term survival.”

There are approximately 3,000 dugongs in the territorial waters of Abu Dhabi, and they are mostly found near Bu Tinah Island, which forms part of the Marawah Biosphere Reserve and Al Yasat Marine Protected Area. The EAD is responsible for providing protection for the second-largest gathering of dugongs in the world, after Australia. Therefore, EAD is doing everything in its power to ensure the preservation of the dugong population and reduce mortality rates as well as any risks that threaten them thanks to its specialised team, which includes experts and researchers who are well versed in the habits and behaviour of dugongs.

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