The Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens' Manatee Critical Care Center celebrated its first success story this week.
Thanks to the efforts of animal care staff at the zoo, manatee Carolina has a new home in Florida.
Carolina came to the zoo's manatee center on Nov. 28 as part of a group of more than 10 manatees that were relocated from cold waters in South Carolina to Florida's warmer waters.
Carolina was the first critical care patient at the Jacksonville Zoo's new manatee facility.
She was rescued in Charleston, South Carolina, as part of a larger operation to relocate wayward manatees found trapped in the Cooper River when water temperatures quickly dropped last November.
Carolina showed significant symptoms of being cold-stressed and rescuers decided she needed some extra TLC before she was ready for release.
“We helped give her some tube feedings and antibiotics and pain medications and made sure she was eating well and that her systems were working right,” Jacksonville Zoo veterinarian Meredith Persky said. “That's how we were able to successfully release her.”
After six weeks of rehabilitation, Carolina and another manatee -- treated by SeaWorld veterinarians -- were released in warm waters near the Port St. John Boat Ramp in Brevard County.
According to a zoo spokeswoman, the waters in that area stay fairly warm and it's a natural gathering spot for manatees, so it's a good, safe place for manatee releases.
Returning rescued manatees to a warm water source allows them to get familiar with the warm-water site so they can return to it again the next time temperatures cool down, SeaWorld vets said.
After releasing Carolina, the Jacksonville Zoo accepted a new manatee in need of rehabilitation from SeaWorld Orlando's facility, freeing up space for SeaWorld to make more critical rescues.
That new manatee was actually rescued from Jacksonville's Intracoastal Waterway near Queen's Harbour on Dec. 16 and spent a couple weeks at SeaWorld being treated.
She's now healthy enough to spend the next year at the Jacksonville Zoo facility, gaining weight until she's big enough to be released to the wild, a zoo spokeswoman said.
The manatee, who will likely be named in the next week, is only about 1 year old and weighs around 350 pounds right now. She'll need to be 700 to 800 pounds before she's big enough to survive in the wild.
To get her there, zoo vets will feed her about 10 percent of her body weight in lettuce every day, along with other nutrients.
As part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) facilities are able to work together shifting rehabilitated animals between facilities to ensure future rescue animals are not turned away, SeaWorld officials said.
SeaWorld Orlando is an acute care rehabilitation facility that provides life-saving medical care to rescued manatees.
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