Subject: Dugong: FEATURE - Mozambique campaigns (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Thu, 27 Nov 1997 10:23:11 -0500 (EST)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 12:36:00 GMT
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: FEATURE - Mozambique campaigns

FEATURE - Mozambique campaigns to keep dugong off the menu
     By Iain Christie
     MAPUTO, Nov 23 (Reuters) - When Mozambican President Joaquim
Chissano visited the holiday resort of Vilankulo last month, a
local coastguard offered a novel item for the presidential menu
-- a dugong.
     But somebody pointed out that the rare sea mammal was a
protected species, and serving it to the head of state might be,
well, politically incorrect.
     The dish was hastily knocked off the menu.
     This story was told by a respected Mozambican environmental
journalist, Teresa Sa Nogueira, in the Maputo daily Mediafax
earlier this month.
     Even though Chissano did not get the chance to eat dugong
meat other people do.
     The dugong, which is about the size of a cow and said to be
just as tasty when properly cooked, is in trouble in Mozambique,
where the press has been campaigning strongly on its behalf in
recent weeks.
     The U.N.-supported Environmental Working Group, a Mozambican
non-governmental organisation has staff in Inhassoro district,
800 km (500 miles) north of Maputo city and not far from the
Vilankulo resort.
     In conjunction with the Bazaruto National Park, an
archipelago off Inhassoro, they work with the local community on
the management and conservation of natural resources.
     Angela McIntyre, a Canadian U.N. volunteer working with the
group, said the dugong count in the Inhassoro area two years ago
was estimated at between 90 and 120.
     "Dugongs are still being killed by small-scale fishermen,
using gill nets. The last I've heard is that the dugong
population is somewhere around 25 but we're not absolutely sure
because they're difficult to count," she said.
    The dugong has a body similar to a seal and is not
particularly beautiful. But legend has it that it is the origin
of the mermaid myth.
     "They're similar to the Florida manatee. They're about two
to three metres (between six and 10 feet) long, about 400 kg
(880 lb). They have a lot of meat on them, and they have breasts
on the front of their bodies like human females and that's
possibly why the mermaid legends have been created," McIntyre
     "Dugongs prefer sheltered areas and the habitat between the
Bazaruto islands and the mainland has a lot of sea-grass beds
and that's where they tend to stay. In that area they tend to be
concentrated within a 30 km range of the coastline of Inhassoro
      Inhassoro is not the only part of the Mozambican coastline
with dugongs, but Mozambican biologist Almeida Guissamulo said
in a recent article that there are only between 500 and 1,000 of
the creatures left along the entire coast.
     McIntyre avoids dumping all the blame on fishermen.
     "It's difficult to define it as accidental or deliberate.
The problem is not so much the intention to kill dugong but the
fact that the fishermen don't have alternatives.
     "If a fisherman owns one gill net and that's basically his
only means of production, whether he sets out to catch dugongs
or not is irrelevant because he's going to catch them anyway.
     "The fishermen usually find the dugongs dead because they
are mammals, they breathe air and they drown in the nets. They
take them ashore and they butcher them and they distribute the
meat among their families," she said.
    "I've heard of dugong meat being sold but I've never
actually seen it and I doubt that very much of the dugong meat
actually makes it to the market."
     "We have to offer concrete incentives to the fishermen to
not kill dugongs," says McIntyre. "In terms of negative
incentives the law has to be enforced because there are laws
protecting dugongs.
     "The maritime authority in Inhassoro has very poor capacity
at the moment. They have two staff members. They don't have a
boat, so they just don't have the possibility of seeing what
people pull in."
     Mozambican dugongs have been a protected species since the
1950s but the problem is in enforcing the law and offering
people alternatives.
     "Some day in the future when there is a more developed
eco-tourism industry in Mozambique we can offer alternatives. We
can say, look, conserve these animals because they can benefit
your community because people are coming to see them," McIntyre
    But she added that tourist traffic in the area was not yet
sufficient to support this.