Four injured manatees flown to Columbus Zoo to help out SeaWorld rescue program

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The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has welcomed four rescued juvenile manatees - Lizzo, Cardi-Tee, MaryKate and Ashley - from a SeaWorld rehabilitation facility in Orlando, Fla., which needed to make room for more critical cases.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has welcomed four rescued juvenile manatees - Lizzo, Cardi-Tee, MaryKate and Ashley - from a SeaWorld rehabilitation facility in Orlando, Fla., which needed to make room for more critical cases.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has taken in four new injured juvenile manatees in an effort to take pressure off of SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, which has experienced a record number of the aquatic marine mammals in trouble.

The move will free up room for the most critical cases.

"As a second stage rehabilitation facility, the Columbus Zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to care for manatees," the two organizations said in a news release Sunday, "The team will care for the animals until they gain enough weight to return to Florida waters when conditions are favorable."

The four manatees transported to Columbus – Lizzo, Cardi-Tee, MaryKate, and Ashley - are all females and were rescued as neonatal calves in 2020 and 2021. Three were orphaned. The zoo has received 39 manatees since the Manatee Coast exhibit opened in 1999. It currently houses nine manatees including the four new ones and two male calves that came to the zoo in April.

The zoo has been working with injured manatees 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.

"To make this move possible, DHL Express transported the manatees in custom built, state-of-the art containers," accompanied by a Columbus Zoo employee, the news release said.

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“When you add an air component on top of the land transfer, the complexity multiplies exponentially," Jon Peterson, vice president of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando, said in a written statement.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has received four new rescued wild manatees in need of rehabilitation, all juvenile females of which three are orphans, who will join these two male manatees that came to the zoo in April and three others, including one not expected to ever be released back into the wild due to extensive injuries.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has received four new rescued wild manatees in need of rehabilitation, all juvenile females of which three are orphans, who will join these two male manatees that came to the zoo in April and three others, including one not expected to ever be released back into the wild due to extensive injuries.

Florida manatees are dying off in high numbers.

"Recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released preliminary data showing that from January 1 to December 31, 2021, there were 1,101 reported manatee deaths in Florida—almost double the five-year average," according to the release. "The manatees are at risk from natural and man-made threats, most dramatically starvation due to depletion of seagrass (their primary food source), along with cold stress, injuries from boat strikes, entanglement or ingesting of fishing gear, and other illnesses."

Manatees are listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List, as the population continues to plummet to dangerously low levels, the release said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has classified the deaths as an "Unusual Mortality Event" requiring an immediate response.

More: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium mourns Coby, the dog who nuzzled newborns into the zoo family

wbush@gannett.com

@ReporterBush

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Four rescued manatee calves flown to Columbus Zoo for rehabilitation

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