RAYUNG, Thailand (AP) – Irrawaddy calf dolphin – sick and too weak to swim – was drowning in a tidal pool on a Thailand beach when fishermen found it.
The fishermen quickly alerted marine environmental advocates, who advised them how to provide emergency care so the rescue team could take the child to the Thailand Marine and Coastal Research and Resources Center for veterinary attention.
The child was nicknamed Paradon, roughly translated as “brotherly burden”, because the participants knew from day one that saving his life would not be an easy task.
The Irrawaddy dolphins, considered an endangered 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, Cambodia and Indonesia. Their survival is threatened by habitat loss, pollution and poaching.
Officials from the Center for Marine Research believe that about 400 Irrawaddy dolphins remain along the country’s eastern coast, on the border with Cambodia.
Since fishermen found Paradon on July 22, dozens of veterinarians and volunteers have helped care for him at the center in Rayong on the Gulf of Thailand.
“We said among ourselves that the chance of him surviving was very low, given his condition,” Thanavan Chomchoen, a veterinarian at the center, said on Friday. Usually dolphins that are found stuck on the beach are in such a terrible state. The chances of these dolphins surviving are usually very slim. But we did our best that day.”
Workers put him in a seawater pool, treated pneumonia that made him extremely sick and weak, and hired volunteers to watch him around the clock. They must carry him in his tank to prevent him from drowning and feed him milk, first by tube, then by bottle after he has regained his strength a bit.
A working vet and one or two volunteers per eight-hour work shift, and other workers during the day deal with the water pump, filter and making milk for the calf.
After a month, Paradon’s condition is improving. A calf believed to be between 4 and 6 months old can now swim and not show signs of infection. But the dolphin, which was 138 centimeters (4.5 feet) long and about 27 kilograms (59 pounds) long on July 22, is still weak and not taking in enough milk despite the team’s efforts to feed it every 20 minutes or so.
Thippunyar Thipjuntar, a 32-year-old financial advisor, is one of the many volunteers who come to work in childcare with Paradon.
Tipponia said that the round face of infant Paradon and her curved mouth resembling a smile, she couldn’t help but stick to him and worried about his development.
“He’s not eating enough but he just wants to play. I’m worried he’s not getting enough nutrition,” she told The Associated Press on Friday as she feeds sleeping Paradon, squealing in her arm. Here to be a volunteer, you of course wish he could grow strong and live.”
Somana Kagunwatanakul, director of the marine center, said Paradon will need long-term care, perhaps up to a year, to be weaned off the milk and be able to forage for its food.
“If we let him go when he gets better, the problem is that he won’t be able to take milk. We will have to take care of him until he has his teeth, then we have to train him to eat fish, to be part of a pod. That will take some time,” Somana said.
Paradon caregivers believe that loving, extended care is worth it.
“If we can save one dolphin, it will help our knowledge, as there have not been many successful cases in treating this type of animal,” said vet Thanavan. “If we can save him and he survives, we will have learned a lot from this.”
“Secondly, I think that by saving him, and giving him a chance to live, we are also raising awareness about the conservation of this type of animal, which is rare, and there is not much left of it.”
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