Columbus zoo gets rescued manatees

Eric Lagatta - The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two young manatees rescued late last year in Florida have been transferred to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium as animal care professionals prepare them for a return to wild waters.

The calfs, which arrived Saturday, are the 34th and 35th manatees to come to the zoo for rehabilitation since it joined the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership in 1999. The move alleviates capacity at ZooTampa, where the manatees had been living since they were rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The nonprofit Tampa zoo operates one of only four critical care centers for manatees in Florida and also is a member of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, a cooperative group of nonprofit, private, state and federal entities dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring of manatees.

Einstein, a 470-pound calf, was orphaned when he arrived at ZooTampa in August after being rescued from the Steinhatchee River in northern Florida. He is not able to be released until he reaches 600 pounds.

Acorn was a 315-pound manatee when he was found floating off a dock in Crystal River in Florida. As of April 8, he weighed 430 pounds.

“Both manatees are doing extremely well in their rehabilitation, and we are confident that with continued care at the Columbus Zoo, Einstein and Acorn will be fully rehabilitated by winter and will be able to return to Florida waters,” Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health, education and conservation at ZooTampa, said in a written statement. “A stellar team of animal care professionals, curators and veterinarians from both organizations oversaw the transfer, which went off smoothly.”

Acorn and Einstein have joined the Columbus Zoo’s Manatee Coast habitat with Stubby, a long-term resident and a favorite of visitors. Stubby suffered extensive injuries from a boat strike and is considered to be a conditionally non-releasable animal, meaning her condition is evaluated every five years to determine if she is ready to return to Florida.

Stubby often voluntarily assumes the role of a surrogate mother, looking after the other manatees, according to the zoo.

The Columbus Zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to care for manatees. As part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, the Columbus Zoo is a second-stage rehabilitation facility that provides a temporary home for manatees until they are ready for release back to the wild.

“The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is very proud to collaborate with our colleagues at ZooTampa and other partners through the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership program to help make a difference for Acorn, Einstein and other manatees who are facing serious challenges in their native ranges,” Becky Ellsworth, curator of the Columbus Zoo’s Shores and Aquarium region, said in a written statement.

“As the manatees continue their rehabilitation journeys and receive expert care at our facilities, guests also have the opportunity to learn more about the important actions we can all take to help protect manatees and their ocean homes. Finding conservation solutions is a collective effort, and our work continues to be driven by the inspiration we find in connecting people to wildlife so that they join us in being a part of protecting these species’ future.”

Eric Lagatta

The Columbus Dispatch

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