Powell, OH – Four young manatees, all estimated to be about one and a half years of age and weighing between 250-500 pounds, arrived at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium yesterday. Three of the four were rescued in Florida after falling victim to the harsh winter resulting in a condition called manatee cold-stress syndrome and one was hit by a boat. They are still recovering and will receive quality care and rehabilitation at the Columbus Zoo with the hope they can one day be released as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Program. The Columbus Zoo was the first program partner outside of the state of Florida and is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to care for manatees.
Zoo staff escorted the three males “Bartlett”, “Hamilton” and “Tippecanoe” and female “Fraulein” from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo where they have been cared for until their health stabilized. After a period of adjustment in a quarantine pool the four juvenile manatees will join adult females “Holly” and “Stubby” who have been at the Columbus Zoo since 2006. The six manatees are the most ever cared for at one time in the Zoo’s Manatee Coast habitat built in 1999.
Even though an average manatee can weigh more than 1,000 lbs. they have very little body fat to keep them warm and it is difficult for a manatee to survive in water when the temperature is below 68 degrees. In cold water the manatee’s metabolism slows leading to digestion problems, decreased appetite, and associated weight loss which weakens their immune systems and makes them vulnerable to environmental toxins resulting in infections and skin sores.
It has been a difficult year for endangered manatees due to prolonged, record low temperatures in Florida resulting in the vast majority of the more than 450 manatee deaths and more than 50 manatees rescued in the first three months of 2010. That total breaks the annual record of 429 manatee deaths in all of 2009. Collisions with boats also pose a major threat to manatees, whose natural habitat is Florida’s slow moving rivers and shallow coastal areas. At the end of 2009 there were approximately 3,800 manatees.
“While we focus on getting these little guys healthy enough to return to the waters of Florida, we have a unique opportunity to educate our guests about the plight of the manatee,” stated Columbus Zoo Director Dale Schmidt. “It is a privilege to be a partner in such an important program.”
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium supports field conservation projects for three of the four living species of manatees through our Conservation Fund. Providing grants to researchers on three continents (North America, South America, and Africa), the Zoo contributes to rescue and rehabilitation in Florida, environmental education focused on the Amazonian manatee in Colombia, and critical population surveys for the least known species—the West African manatee.
More information about the program is available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (www.myfwc.com/manatee) or Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (www.wildtracks.org).
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is open 363 days of the year 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Memorial Day weekend and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. General admission is $12.99 for adults, $7.99 for children ages 2 to 9 and seniors 60+. Children under 2 and Columbus Zoo members are free. The Zoo was named the #1 Zoo in America by USA Travel Guide and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA.) For more information and to purchase advance Zoo admission tickets, visit www.columbuszoo.org.