Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi saves and rehabilitates dugong calf

The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has successfully rescued and rehabilitated a dugong calf, discovered stranded at the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve in 2019.

EAD rangers found the young dugong without its mother and far away from any herd. Strong winds may have contributed to separation from his mother and group. The dugong was named “Malqout,” which means “saved” and “whose owner is not known” in Arabic.

EAD’s marine species team assessed Malqout’s health and, with the help of experts from the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) Office – Abu Dhabi, confirmed that he was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition due to his unstable condition and low weight. The team transferred Malqout to a specialized facility in Abu Dhabi, where local zoological experts, Worldwide Zoo Consultants (WZC), provided specialist veterinary consultancy and animal husbandry.

Malqout received round-the-clock human care and special formula food to treat dehydration and malnutrition. The experienced veterinarians provided him with an environment that allowed him to learn natural behaviour patterns and under their care, Malqout grew from 60 cm to nearly two metres.

Moving forward, the best option for Malqout is to continue living under consistent human supervision. Malqout’s survival story is a testament to the quality of care available in Abu Dhabi.

Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary-General, EAD:
Malqout’s story is one 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 realize 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 Dugong MOU at CMS Office – Abu Dhabi, as well as with specialized marine vets, to ensure that we the best care possible.

Rouba Abou-Atieh, Executive Coordinator at CMS Office – Abu Dhabi:
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.
A December 2022 CMS Publication, ‘Options For Handling a Stranded Orphaned Dugong Calf – Advice to Policy Makers and Managers’, seeks to outline the difficult and limited choices available when an orphaned dugong is found stranded. 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.

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 EAD 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 specialized team, which includes experts and researchers who are well versed in the habits and behaviour of dugongs.

To learn more, download the CMS Publication: Options for Handling Stranded Orphaned Dugong Calf: Advice Policy Makers and Managers.