Sick dolphin calf improves with tube-fed milk, helping hands

RAYONG, Thailand – The young Irrawaddy dolphin – sick and too weak to swim – was drowning in a tidal pool on the Thai coast when fishermen found him.

The fishermen quickly alerted marine conservationists, who advised them to provide emergency care until a rescue team could transport the baby to Thailand’s Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Center for rescue. veterinary care.

The baby was nicknamed Paradon, which roughly translates to “brotherly burden”, as those involved knew from day one that saving his life would not be an easy task.

Irrawaddy dolphins, considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are found in the shallow coastal waters of South and Southeast Asia and in three rivers in Myanmar, the Cambodia and Indonesia. Their survival is threatened by habitat loss, pollution and illegal fishing.

Marine research center officials estimate that there are around 400 Irrawaddy dolphins left along the country’s east coast, bordering Cambodia.

Since Paradon was found by fishermen on July 22, dozens of vets and volunteers have helped care for him at the Rayong center in the Gulf of Thailand.

“We figured his chances of survival were pretty low, judging by his condition,” Thanaphan Chomchuen, a veterinarian at the center, said Friday. “Normally dolphins found stranded on shore are usually in such terrible condition. The chances of these dolphins surviving are normally very, very slim. But we gave it our best try that day.”

Workers put him in a pool of seawater, treated the lung infection that made him so sick and weak, and enlisted volunteers to watch him around the clock. They have to hold him in his tank to prevent him from drowning and give him milk, first by tube, then by bottle when he has regained some strength.

A staff vet and one or two volunteers stay for each eight-hour shift, and other workers during the day tend to the water pump and filter and make milk for the calf.

After a month, Paradon’s condition improves. The calf, believed to be between 4 and 6 months old, can now swim and shows no signs of infection. But the dolphin who was 138 centimeters long (4.5 feet) and about 27 kilograms (59 pounds) on July 22 is still weak and not taking in enough milk despite the team’s efforts to feed him every 20 minutes. about.

Thippunyar Thipjuntar, a 32-year-old financial adviser, is one of the many volunteers who come to babysit with Paradon.

Thippunya said that with Paradon’s round baby face and curved mouth that looks like a smile, she couldn’t help but get attached to him and worried about his development.

“He’s not eating enough but just wants to play. I’m afraid he’s not getting enough food,” she told The Associated Press on Friday as she fed the sleeping Paradon cradled in her arm. “When you invest your time, physical effort, mental focus and money to come here as a volunteer, of course you want it to grow strong and survive.”

Sumana Kajonwattanakul, director of the marine center, said Paradon would need long-term care, possibly up to a year, until he was weaned off milk and able to hunt for his own food.

“If we just release him when he’s better, the problem is he won’t be able to have milk. We’ll have to take care of him until he has his teeth, then we have to train him to eat milk. fish, and being part of a group. It will take some time,” Sumana said.

Paradon caregivers believe that extended, tender care is worth it.

“If we can save a dolphin, it will help our knowledge, because there haven’t been many successful cases in treating this type of animal,” veterinarian Thanaphan said. “If we can save him and he survives, we will have learned so much.”

“Secondly, I think by saving it, by giving it a chance to live, we are also raising awareness about the conservation of this species of animal, which is rare, there are not many left.”

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