As manatees continue to face an unprecedented year marked by an unusual mortality event, record watercraft injuries, severe weather, and red tide, two young manatees were transferred to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio to continue their rehabilitation. They arrived safely during the early evening hours on Saturday, April 24. The move helps alleviate capacity concerns at ZooTampa, which operates one of only four critical care centers for manatees in Florida. Both organizations are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquarium and are active members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state, and federal entities dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, release, and monitoring of manatees.
The two young manatees were rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the fall of 2020. Einstein arrived at ZooTampa in August 2020 from Steinhatchee River with his injured mom, who unfortunately did not survive her injuries. As an orphaned calf, he is not able to be released until he reaches 600 pounds. He is considered to be in stable condition and as of April 8 weighs 470 pounds.
Acorn arrived at ZooTampa in November 2020 from Crystal River. He was found floating off a dock and was emaciated. He has been stable for a few months and is gaining weight consistently. He arrived at 315 pounds and, as of April 8, weighs 430 pounds.
“This iconic Florida species has been at the heart of our commitment to conservation for more than 30 years. 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,” stated Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health, education, and conservation at ZooTampa. “A stellar team of animal care professionals, curators, and veterinarians from both organizations oversaw the transfer, which went off smoothly.”
They are the 34th and 35th manatees to arrive at the Columbus Zoo for rehabilitation since the Zoo joined the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) in 1999. Acorn and Einstein have joined the Zoo’s Manatee Coast habitat with long-term resident and fan favorite, Stubby. Due to Stubby’s extensive injuries from a boat strike, she is considered to be a conditionally non-releasable animal. Her condition is evaluated every five years to determine if she is ready or not to return to Florida, but it is unlikely that she will move out of this category. Instead, she has often voluntarily assumed the role of a surrogate mother looking after the other manatees. She has already taken a strong interest in the new arrivals, showing them around the habitat. While Acorn and Einstein continue to adjust to their new surroundings, they will continue to have access to behind-the-scenes areas, along with Stubby and Squirrel and Scampi—two orphaned manatees who are continuing their rehabilitation after arriving at the Columbus Zoo on October 22, 2020.
“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,” said Becky Ellsworth, curator of the Columbus Zoo’s Shores and Aquarium region. “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.”
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. As part of the MRP, 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.
ZooTampa is a leader in wildlife conservation in Florida and throughout the world. As one of only four manatee critical care centers in the United States, its state-of-the-art David A Straz Jr. center has cared for more than 500 injured, sick and orphaned manatees with the majority returned to Florida waters. A dedicated team of animal care and medical staff tend to manatees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Rescue photos by Brandon Bassett & Andy Garrett, FWC. Columbus Zoo pictures by Grahm S. Jones.