The dugong was named ‘Malqout’ – an Arabic word that means ‘saved.’
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has rescued and rehabilitated a young male dugong calf, which was found abandoned. The dugong was discovered by Agency rangers at the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. Alone, without its mother and far away from any herd, it was found following a few days of strong winds, which may have contributed to the dugong’s separation from his mother and the group. The dugong was named ‘Malqout’ – an Arabic word that means ‘saved’ and ‘whose owner is not known’ – perfectly expressing the young animal’s condition.
The Agency’s specialised marine species team assessed Malqout’s health, supported by experts at the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Regional Office. Due to Malqout’s weight and unstable condition, the Agency’s team confirmed that he was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition and needed specialised veterinary care. The decision was made to transfer him to a specialised facility in Abu Dhabi, staffed by animal husbandry experts and qualified veterinarians. Here, the Agency coordinated with locally based zoological experts, Worldwide Zoo Consultants (WZC) to provide veterinary consultancy and ongoing specialist animal husbandry care. The specialists advised keeping Malqout under round-the-clock human supervision due to his poor health, supported by the availability of appropriate resources that could provide the highest standards of care.
The successful rescue and rehabilitation process of Malqout is unique and one of the rarest cases in the world. The Agency succeeded in caring for Malqout even though dugongs do not respond well in captivity, by drawing on its extensive experience garnered over 25 years, which includes several research and scientific studies on dugong protection and preserving habitats and marine species. Dugongs rely heavily on their mothers for the first 18 months of their life, but the Agency was able to provide the best environment for Malqout to survive.
To rehabilitate Malqout, continuous 24-hour veterinary care was provided until he was gradually weaned and trained to eat seaweed. To maintain his quality of life after that initial period, Malqout needed special care from qualified veterinarians, including suitable facilities to accommodate his growth, and to protect him from volatile weather conditions and loud noises. The Agency and the team of experts provided a stimulating environment with suitable space in which Malqout could learn about natural behaviour patterns, while ensuring his long-term growth. The team of experienced veterinarians provided special formula food to treat dehydration and malnutrition. Since then, Malqout has grown from 60cm to nearly two metres long and has been given a clean bill of health.
According to information from an MoU by the Secretariat of the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and previous attempts made around the world, no dugong to date successfully rehabilitated in captivity has been released back into its natural environment. Knowing that Malqout lacks the natural survival instinct acquired in the early stages of a dugong’s life – and in order to mitigate any other risks – the Agency decided not to release him. Being young and reared in a controlled environment, he has not developed normal immunity and has adapted to receiving specialist human care, which hinders his ability to interact with other species and avoid predators.
Since the rehabilitation, the best option for Malqout is to continue his life under consistent human supervision, and his survival story is testament to the quality of care available in Abu Dhabi. The Agency and its partners are well equipped to care for Malqout, while the team of veterinarians and dugong experts will be able to monitor his condition on a regular basis.
Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD’s Secretary General, said: “Malqout’s story is a story 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.”
Rouba Abou-Atieh, the 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: “A recent CMS Publication, titled ‘Options for Handling a Stranded Orphaned Dugong Calf – Advice to Policy Makers and Managers’ released in December 2022, attempts to shed light on the challenging and restricted options available when a stranded orphaned dugong calf is discovered. 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.”
While Tommy Wilken, the Chief Executive Officer from Worldwide Zoo Consultants, said: “Worldwide Zoo Consultants is proud to have contributed to the successful rescue and rehabilitation of the dugong, later named Malqout. Over the past three and a half years in coordination with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, our dedicated animal care experts and veterinarians were able to accomplish something that is very rare, the successful rescue and rehabilitation of a stranded newborn dugong calf. We are proud of this exceptional accomplishment. Many hours of round-the-clock care went into this effort, and we could not be happier that he is currently thriving and fully stabilised and adapted well to living in human care. The lessons Malqout has taught us during our rescue and rehabilitation efforts will most certainly be beneficial to future rescues efforts for others of his species.”
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 Agency 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.