Dugong

With only 100 left the dugong is about to extinct in Malaysia

Time is running out for dugongs aka sea cow in Malaysia with its population continuing to decline since they were first seen in Malaysian shores during the late 1960s.
Only 100 of them left in the whole country, pushing them to the verge of extinction. The dugong population in Malaysia is mostly found in the states of Johor, Sabah and Sarawak. To make matters worse, an average of three to five cases of dugong deaths are recorded each year. According to Programme Manager responsible for the implementation of the Dugong Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and their Habitats, Dr Donna Kwan, among threats faced by dugongs are gill fishing nets, pollution and diminishing food sources.

"Sometimes the nets are set very low. When it hits the dugongs, they will panic and roll into the nets, causing them to be entangled in the nets and drowned because they have to breathe every five to seven minutes. That is the biggest mortality for dugongs," she told a press conference on dugong and seagrass conservation project, here today. Also known as sea cows, dugongs rely on seagrass meadows for food and habitat. An adult dugong can eat up to 40kg of seagrass a day.

Story by Tan Su Lin

About the dugong

The dugong is a medium-sized marine mammal. It is one of four living species of the order Sirenia, which also includes three species of manatees. It is the only living representative of the once-diverse family Dugongidae; its closest modern relative, Steller's sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas), was hunted to extinction in the 18th century. The dugong is the only strictly marine herbivorous mammal.

The dugong is the only sirenian in its range, which spans the waters of some 40 countries and territories throughout the Indo-West Pacific. The dugong is largely dependent on seagrass communities for subsistence and is thus restricted to the coastal habitats which support seagrass meadows, with the largest dugong concentrations typically occurring in wide, shallow, protected areas such as bays, mangrove channels, the waters of large inshore islands and inter-reefal waters. The northern waters of Australia between Shark Bay and Moreton Bay are believed to be the dugong's contemporary stronghold.

The dugong has been hunted for thousands of years for its meat and oil. Traditional hunting still has great cultural significance in several countries in its modern range, particularly northern Australia and the Pacific Islands. The dugong's current distribution is fragmented, and many populations are believed to be close to extinction. The IUCN lists the dugong as a species vulnerable to extinction, while the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species limits or bans the trade of derived products. Despite being legally protected in many countries, the main causes of population decline remain anthropogenic and include fishing-related fatalities, habitat degradation and hunting. With its long lifespan of 70 years or more, and slow rate of reproduction, the dugong is especially vulnerable to extinction.