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Dolphin 'dying of broken heart' after keeper is stabbed to death

full story: http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article2287034.ece

By Peter Popham in Rome
20 February 2007

A rare grampus dolphin, rescued 18 months ago after it swam into an Italian port, seems to be dying of a broken heart after the woman who reared it like her own child was murdered.

Tamara Monti, 37, the creature's keeper, was stabbed to death two weeks ago by the man who lived in the flat above her. Police found an unemployed man, Alessandro Doto, 35, standing in the street outside the block where they lived, frozen like a dummy with a blood-spattered knife in his hand. He told them Ms Monti's two dogs barked all day and it drove him mad.

The issue had been simmering between them for months. Ms Monti and her partner had found a new place to live with their cat and dogs and were due to move the next day.

Ms Monti was from the Lake Como region, hundreds of miles north-west of Riccione, a resort on the Adriatic coast just south of Rimini, but Riccione had taken her to its heart. The town was in mourning on hearing of her death. But no one missed her like Mary G.

The grampus dolphin was a calf in June 2005 when she and her mother blundered into the port of Ancona, south of Riccione, and ran aground. They were rescued and brought to hospital, but Mary G's mother died three days later. After two months the dolphin had recovered sufficiently to be brought to Oltremare Park in Riccione, a seaside theme park, where she was given a pool of sea water and the constant attendance of experts. They bottle-fed her a mixture of herring, vitamins and mineral salts, rocked her like a baby and gave her swimming lessons. But only one of the keepers talked to her as if she were her own child, and that was Ms Monti.

As Mary G grew, she became the park's big attraction. Her fame spread through Italy, via websites, television programmes and blogs. Visitors flocked to Riccione to see her.

"We wanted to return her to the open sea," said Sauro Pari, head of the organisation that runs the park, "but international experts advised against it. They told us she would not survive."

Instead the grampus dolphin with the comical rounded forehead and cartoon-like grin, and her surrogate mother, remained together - for life, or so it appeared.

But now Mary G is dying. The word began to spread within days of Ms Monti's murder, through the blogs and websites devoted to her. One message read: "Since Tamara's death, Mary is unwell. Let's help her." She would either refuse her diet of milk and squid, or eat it then spew it out.

Mary G's weight plummeted from 210kg to 160kg in a couple of weeks. As happened 18 months ago, she is being attended by specialist vets, but has so far failed to respond to treatment.

At the theme park, dolphin experts are going out of their way to deny any firm connection between the keeper's murder and the dolphin's sickness. They say there is a simple explanation for her rejection of food: an intestinal parasite which she could have acquired at any time.

"From a strictly scientific point of view we absolutely cannot assert that the two facts are connected," Mr Pari said. "But there is no doubt that her grief for the death of Tamara is great. We are very worried about what will become of her."

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