By Arwa Lodhi
The dugong is probably not an animal you are too familiar with–not just because it lives underwater, but mainly because it is so close to extinction.
A cousin of the manatee and closely related to the elephant, the gentle, intelligent dugong is unique in that it has a split (whale-like) tail and can “sit up” underwater on its tail in order to keep its head above water. Maybe because of this ‘sitting’ ability, the dugong is thought to have inspired ancient myths about mermaids.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species limits or bans the trade of dugong-derived products, but still, one of the main causes of the decline of this species is hunting: Dugong meat and oil are traditionally valuable foods of Australian aborigines and Torres Strait Islander, and their body parts are also used as food, medicine, and even decorations. In the Philippines, parts of Dugong’s body are used to ward off evil spirits, and in areas of Thailand, it is believed that the gentle dugong’s tears form a powerful love potion.
The word “dugong” derives from Tagalog, adopted from the term Malay duyung,meaning “lady of the sea”. Other names are “sea cow”, “sea pig” and “sea camel”. These interesting and rare mammals, which forage for sea vegetables with their elephant trunk-like snouts, play an important ecological role in coastal marine ecosystems, but are further endangered due to destruction of their native habitats, and getting caught in fishing lines.
We rarely here much about these magical creatures, but if you’d like more information about them–and how to help them–please click here.