Three orphaned manatees joined the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden rescue family on Oct. 1. Since then, Nolia, Amethyst and Waffles have been adjusting to their new home while on their journey to recovery. The ultimate goal is for these manatees to reach a weight of at least 600 pounds each, a milestone necessary for their successful release back into Florida waters. Currently, Nolia weighs 265 pounds, Waffles weighs 325 pounds and Amethyst weighs 275 pounds, according to the zoo’s rehabilitation team.
The Cincinnati and Columbus Zoos are the only facilities outside Florida equipped with rehabilitation centers for manatees. As second-stage rehab facilities, they assume the temporary role of offering nourishment, homes and medical attention until these creatures are deemed fit for a return to their natural habitat.
The Cincinnati Zoo was pivotal in rehabilitating three manatees who were transported to ZooTampa in Florida on Sept. 29. They were joined by five more manatees that had been under the care of the Columbus Zoo. The return flight from Florida to Ohio featured five young manatees, accompanied by a Columbus Zoo veterinarian and a member of the Cincinnati Zoo Animal Care team. Two manatees were destined for Columbus, while Nolia, Amethyst and Waffles made their way to Cincinnati.
Kim Scott, curator of mammals at the Cincinnati Zoo, expressed delight in their progress in an interview with Cincinnati local news Fox19, stating, “The girls are doing great, and we were even able to open Manatee Springs sooner than expected. With the arrival of these three, Cincinnati Zoo will have cared for 29 manatees since we began participating in the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) in 1999. It’s never routine, but I will say that this transfer was about as smooth as it gets.”
Florida manatees, which were reclassified from endangered to threatened in 2017, face a variety of dangers, both natural and human-made. These risks include exposure to red tide, cold stress, diseases, boat strikes, accidents involving flood gates or locks and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear. The overall manatee population is estimated to be around 13,000, with more than 6,500 residing in Puerto Rico and the southeastern United States. They are primarily concentrated in the waters of Florida. Despite the reclassification, in a few short years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced two petitions to reclassify the species as endangered, particularly due to seagrass loss.
The arrival of Nolia, Amethyst and Waffles at the Cincinnati Zoo marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to protect the Florida manatee, and highlights the collaborative spirit among zoos and organizations dedicated to preserving these gentle giants.