SeaWorld sends manatees to Ohio zoos for rehab stints

There’s been a fall migration of manatees flying back and forth from Florida as two Ohio zoos continue their work with a national program to care for orphaned and injured manatees and prepare them for their return to the wild.

Four male manatees were flown to zoos in Cincinnati and Columbus from SeaWorld Orlando this week as part of their participation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership.

Pippen, Miles and Mathew are now swimming in the manatee exhibit at Cincinnati Zoo & Biological Garden while Goober has a new home at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which received another orphaned manatee named Agua last month from the Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa. All of these orphans are on display at their respective zoos while they receive medical care and put on weight before they return to Florida.

Two Cincinnati manatees, meanwhile, were flown back to Florida this week. BamBam will spend a few months at SeaWorld before his release early next year. Twenty-seven-year-old Betsy, in Cincinnati since 2010, isn’t a candidate for a return to the wild and will live and be cared for at a Florida state park.

In Columbus, Jedi and Junebug traveled earlier this month to the Miami Seaquarium in Florida for final preparations for their release after spending 11 months in central Ohio.

The Ohio zoos are the only two outside of Florida that are part of the Manatee Rescue program. They’re second-stage rehabilitation facilities where sick, injured and orphaned animals are treated with the hope of making them healthy and strong enough before they’re returned to the wild. SeaWorld, Lowery Park Zoo and Miami Seaquarium provide the first stage of care after the animals are rescued, and serve as a final stop before they’re released.

Cincinnati’s Manatee Springs opened in 1999. BamBam is expected to be the zoo’s 14th manatee to return to the slow moving rivers, bays and estuaries along Florida’s coasts.

The Columbus Zoo said Goober is the 27th manatee they’ve received for rehabilitation since 2001. The zoo’s 300,000 gallon (1.1 million liter) Manatee Coast also features a pair of twins, Millenium and Falcon, and Stubby, a surrogate mother and full time Columbus resident whose injuries from a boat don’t allow for her to return to the wild.

Cincinnati Zoo spokesman Michelle Curley says the Manatee Rescue program has helped increase the gentle breed’s numbers. Manatees face pressure from Florida’s continuing growth in population, tourists and development. Manatees were downgraded earlier this year from an endangered species to a threatened one.


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