An eight-month-old dugong that won the hearts of numerous animal lovers in Thailand has died after choking on plastic waste.
The orphaned female, named Marium, became popular after pictures of her cuddling her carers and being fed milk spread across social media.
Dugongs are listed as “vulnerable”, meaning they are at high risk of endangerment after thousands of years of being hunted for their meat and oil.
Marium, which means “lady of the sea”, had been found bruised after apparently being chased and attacked by a male dugong during mating season, said Jatuporn Buruspat of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.
She was found stranded on a beach in southern Krabi province in April.
Marium was estimated to be a few months old and was thought to have been separated from her mother after a tidal misjudgement.
She was treated at a clinic on Koh Libong in Krabi province.
Marium was fed up to 15 times a day and received regular health checks.
“We assume she wandered off too far from her natural habitat and was chased and eventually attacked by another male dugong, as they feel attracted to her,” Jatuporn said.
A large amount of plastic was found in her intestine, which led to gastritis and blood infection, he added.
“She must have thought these plastics were edible,” Jatuporn said.
The mammals can grow to about 3.4 metres in length.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-arcpha said the marine mammal would be stuffed.
Thailand is thought to be home to about 250 dugongs, which are sometimes called sea cows and are related to the manatees of the Caribbean and the southern USA.
In June, all of Asean adopted a joint declaration to combat marine debris.
The UK produces more waste than it can process domestically with 230-million tonnes a year or around 1.1kg per person each day. The US, the most wasteful nation, produces 2kg per person per day. Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are countries with some of the world’s highest rates of “waste mismanagement” with trash left or burned in open landfills, illegal sites with inadequate reporting, making western rubbish exports difficult to trace.
In October last year, a Greenpeace Unearthed said large quantities of European waste was found in illegal dumps in Malaysia, which was often burned or abandoned in rivers and the sea. In May, Malaysia began turning back containers loaded with rubbish, citing public health concerns.
Thailand and India have announced bans on the import of foreign plastic waste but the trash continues to flow.
Dugong. Picture credit: Pixnio