JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced the completion of its Manatee Critical Care Center on Friday.
The center will help rehabilitate and temporarily house injured local manatees until they can be released back into the wild.
The zoo is hosting a celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday to kick off the second annual Jacksonville Manatee Festival.
The day will start with a parade at 9:45 a.m. followed by the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Guests will be able to access the facility's perimeter from the Zoo's Wild Florida loop from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The fun festival will continue on the Great Lawn until 2 p.m., with activities such as face painting, a mock manatee rescue, artistic demonstrations and live music from Sciatica Beach.
Festival partners include Jacksonville University, Save the Manatee Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, AquaJax and more. The event is free with zoo admission.
The zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team has a longtime partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to rescue regional injured and cold-stressed manatees and transport them to rehabilitation facilities where they are treated and released.
Given the high number of manatees in the Jacksonville area and the cost and risks associated with moving these animals, the Zoo's Manatee Critical Care Center will be a vital asset, allowing the team to go beyond the rescue and further contribute to the preservation of this iconic species.
The center will be run entirely by the zoo, and overseen by its Animal Health Center staff. Once the animals are rehabilitated, they’ll be released back into the local waters.
Animal care staff said they're “excited for the Manatee Critical Care Center to open here at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. This center will help us improve the status of the endangered Florida Manatee."
Manatee response and rescue is a major component of Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ commitment to regional conservation.
“It is very satisfying to be able to add their recovery and release to our marine mammal work,” says Dan Maloney, deputy director of animal care and conservation.
Some of the zoo's staff helped rescue a local manatee when it got stuck in a storm drain in Ortega back in November.
The manatees’ length of stay at the center will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on severity of illness or injury.
More information on the Jacksonville Manatee Festival is available on the website.
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