New Delhi: THE dugong, a massive sea mammal often mistaken by sailors as the mythical mermaid, has most of its last viable populations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The population here too, of these slow breeding, 13 feet long animals, is only 25-30. Now, there’s one less.
The long arm of poaching has not spared the pristine Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A breeding female dugong, protected under Schedule One of the Wildlife Protection Act, was hacked to death by poachers around Christmas on Neil Island. The meat of the dugong may have been used as fish bait and was chanced upon by scuba-divers in the area.
“Tourists in Neil island, part of the Andaman complex, woke up to the sight of a mutilated carcass of the dugong on beach number 3 of Neil islands. We found the carcass dripping with blood. We had spotted the same animal with a calf on the beach so it is now unlikely the calf will survive on its own. Its shocking that anti-social elements can operate like this,” said Lucan, a scuba-diver in the area. The Chief Wildlife warden of the area, Khajan Singh, has deputed a senior forest department official to investigate the matter.
The number of dugongs, which exist only in areas with shallow waters, mostly with coral reef formations, has dwindled enormously in the past few years due to indiscriminate hunting. There is current evidence of the dugong living in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Though they existed in the Gulf of Kutch, there have not been any recent sightings of the animal there. They are also found in the Great Reefs in Australia.In 2008, the Cabinet approved India joining international efforts to protect and manage dugongs. Dugongs are legally protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. They are listed in Appendix-I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and in Appendix II of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) to both of which India is a signatory.