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  Phuket Gazette 31 Jul 07
Experts fear Jatukham fever may endanger dugongs

PHUKET (Gazette/Kom Chad Luek): Conservation experts fear that fierce competition in the promotion of Jatukham Ramathep amulets may have sparked renewed interesting in the hunting of dugong, whose teardrops are believed by some to have magical powers.

Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC) biologist Kanjana Adulyankosol told the Gazette that fears stemmed from promotional material used by one Jatukham seller coupled with the February 14 discovery of a dead baby dugong with unexplained trauma to the eyes.

“There is a belief that dugong teardrops possess special powers because mother dugong are known to become obsessed when searching for their lost young,” she said. “Dugong are easy for people to hunt down, and the method used to extract the teardrops is extremely cruel. It involves removing the animal from the water, waiting for the eyes to dry up and then hitting the tear ducts to induce tears,” she said.

The amount of tear liquid that can be extracted in this way is very limited, she added.

K. Kanjana said that the carcass of the baby dugong was found in Phang Nga Bay. “It had a wound from a sharp object on its left eye and the cornea in right eye was missing, but we don’t know for sure what the cause was,” she said. “I don’t know whether the sales pitch used to promote the amulets is true or not, but if it is, it is absolutely illegal,” she added.

“There are only about 250 dugong left in Thai waters. Sale of their body parts, including tusks or other tissues, is completely prohibited,” said K. Kanjana, who has undertaken several population estimates of the population from a two-seat microlight aircraft.

K. Kanjana estimated said the annual death rate in the population is relatively stable at around 10 animals annually, but that even a small rise in that rate could quickly push the local population towards extinction because of the dugong’s slow breeding rate.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Kasem Sanitwong na Ayuthaya said anyone caught hunting dugong or whales for use in amulet production would face prosecution to the fullest extent possible under the law.

Whale blubber is another material that has been advertised in promotions for some series of the Jatukham talisman.

Nisakorn Kositrat, Director General of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, said his agency was being particularly vigilant in investigating any reports of dead dugong, especially in Trang province, home to about half of the known population in Thai waters.

He asked for cooperation from local organizations to prevent hunting of dugong, the local population of which is listed as “vulnerable to extinction if trade in them is not halted” under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

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