Baby love: A lost dugong has found home in the arms of Thai vets

A baby dugong, which resembles the American manatee, was found separated from her mother in April near Thailand. Marium has developed a close bond with her caretakers, and warmed hearts across the internet. 

Sirachai Arunrugstichai/AP
Officials of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources feed Marium, a baby dugong separated from her mother near southern Thailand, on May 23. Though she's developed an attachment to humans, marine experts are hoping she can one day fend for itself.

A baby dugong that has developed an attachment to humans after being separated from its mother and getting lost in the ocean off southern Thailand is being nurtured by marine experts in hopes that it can one day fend for itself.

The estimated 5-month-old female dugong named Marium has become an internet hit in Thailand after images of marine biologists embracing and feeding the aquatic mammal with milk and sea grass spread across social media.

The dugong is a species of marine mammal similar to the American manatee and can grow to about 11 feet in length. Its conservation status is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Marium was spotted alone near a beach on Ko Poda island in Krabi province in April. Officials later tried to release it into a dugong habitat off the coast of another island but it swam away.

Veterinarians and volunteers set out each day in canoes to locate Marium near the dugong habitat off Ko Libong island. It does not swim with the herd and usually comes straight to them, then follows them into shallower water, where it is fed milk and sea grass, similar to her natural diet, for up to 15 times a day while also receiving health checks.

Marium's caretakers believe it has formed a bond with humans but is also drawn to the shape of the underside of canoes, perhaps seeing it as a mother substitute.

"She's attached and tries to swim and cling to the boat as if it was her mother and when we are swimming she would come and tuck under our arms. It's almost like the way she would tuck under her mother," said Nantarika Chansue, director of the Aquatic Animal Research Center of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Veterinarian Science, who advises Marium's caretakers.

"So I think it's not only humans but anything that looks like another dugong that she would be attached to," Ms. Nantarika said.

Marium has attained fame on social media, and images of it bonding with its human guardians have been widely published by Thai media. It also attracts crowds on Libong island, where its feeding is often watched by scores of people crowding the seashore.

Veterinarians say they need to continue looking after Marium for at least another year until it can be weaned off of bottled milk, after which they hope it will be able to look after herself without their help.

Ms. Nantarika said dugongs typically stop feeding on milk at around 18 months and usually spend around eight years under their mothers' care. She said Marium would have to be trained later to detach herself from humans but, at this point, the emphasis should be on her survival.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.