After extensive renovations to its David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, ZooTampa at Lowry Park is again supporting manatees in need of care. The center is the first nonprofit acute care facility for injured, sick and orphaned wild manatees. Four manatees rescued from Florida’s west coast after being involved in boat strikes have moved from SeaWorld to the Zoo for continued care.
Among the Zoo’s patients is Cayo, a male manatee who was found near Cayo Costa in Lee County four years ago so severely injured that he’s unable to return to Florida waters and depends on regular care.
Roomba, another male, has recovered from a boat strike injury he suffered in the Crystal River in Citrus County. He’s doing well and awaits possible release to the wild. Two other patients, a female manatee found in Cedar Key in Levy County after being struck by a boat last year, and her calf, who was not hurt, are receiving continued care and monitoring at the Zoo.
Funded by the Florida Legislature, the Critical Care Center’s $3 million upgrade includes a complex energy efficient filtration system that supports the Zoo’s ability to provide life-saving support for severely injured and sickened manatees.
An iconic Florida species, manatees face serious threats from pollution, habitat degradation and human conflict, including boat strikes. Severe red tide emergencies along Florida’s coast have further imperiled these threatened marine mammals. Last year, 286 more Florida manatees perished than during the previous year.
“Our upgraded manatee care center is just the first phase of an ambitious plan to increase ZooTampa’s capacity to care for a variety of threatened species native to Florida,” said Chief Executive Officer Joe Couceiro. “The Center’s reopening is part of our long-term vision to protect and preserve Florida wildlife, and to inspire a greater public connection to, and responsibility for, the wildlife that call Florida home.”
As more rescued manatees come to ZooTampa’s Critical Care Center, visitors will have the opportunity to observe these graceful, slow moving “sea cows” as they recover and rehabilitate. Once they are healthy again, it’s the Zoo’s goal to return manatees to Florida waters.
“Under the guidance of the Zoo’s lead manatee veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Smith, our veterinary and animal care staff are continuing our work to provide advanced, specialized medical treatment and rehabilitation for manatees that are orphaned or injured by boat strike, entangled in fishing line or suffering from cold stress,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, senior vice president and chief zoological officer at ZooTampa. “With nearly 60 years of combined expertise and skill in manatee care, we’re once again rehabilitating those in critical need of quality care and working collaboratively with Florida Fish and Wildlife and other partners to help protect this important species in our state.”
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