Big Manatee Moves

Posted October 2, 2023

Eight Rehabilitated Manatees Flown from Ohio Zoos Back to Florida Facilities

to Prepare for Release Back into Home Waters

Intricate trip is successful culmination of rescue efforts by four zoological facilities

CINCINNATI (Oct. 2, 2023) – Eight manatees were flown more than 1,000 miles back to their temporary Florida homes over the weekend, the successful culmination of more than two years of rescue work by four zoological/marine institutions to save the beloved sea cows.

In an intricate operation, the manatees – weighing a total of almost 6,000 pounds – were placed in custom-built containers to help them travel safely and then driven to the Cincinnati International Airport at the DHL Express Global hub. All of the manatees were loaded onto a specially scheduled DHL cargo plane to head to Florida, where they will complete the final stages of their rehabilitation journey before they return to the waters where they were initially rescued.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, ZooTampa at Lowry Park and SeaWorld Orlando have partnered for several years to rehabilitate these eight orphans.

Three manatees left Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and headed to ZooTampa to prepare for their release back into Florida waters. When they were rescued in spring and summer of 2021, the three were some of the tiniest calves ever treated at ZooTampa’s David A. Straz, Jr. Critical Care Center.

All three calves received intensive care, including bottle feeding, at ZooTampa for 18 months before being moved to Cincinnati Zoo’s Manatee Springs in November 2022 for rehabilitation. They will be cared for at ZooTampa until they can be released into Crystal River in February.

“Manatees are a critical part of our aquatic ecosystems, and we’ve been honored to be involved in their rescue, rehabilitation, and return for 47 years, working alongside our partners, including the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, to help preserve these beloved Florida icons,” said Dr. Joseph Gaspard, Vice President of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando. “We have the capacity to care for up to 60 manatees in need at a time in our critical care facility in Orlando, which is one of only a few in the U.S. for the treatment of marine animals. A close collaboration among the zoological community, where we transfer stable rehabilitating animals between facilities, is important to free up critical care space and ensure that together we save as many manatees as we can.”

Five orphaned manatees, the largest number ever moved at once from the Columbus Zoo, were transferred to SeaWorld Orlando. Four had previously been cared for at SeaWorld before moving to Columbus Zoo in January 2022, and one came from Miami Seaquarium in 2020.

“These transfers are extremely important as it allows us to make room to care for critically injured, ill and orphaned manatees,” said Tiffany Burns, senior director of animal programs. “We are grateful to our partners in Ohio for providing secondary rehabilitation. It’s an incredible team effort and we are excited about the manatees’ return to Florida waters early next year.”

DHL Express transported the manatees in custom-built, state-of-the art containers, accompanied by a Cincinnati Zoo staff veterinarian and Columbus Zoo Animal Care curator, who monitored the manatees’ condition throughout the flight.

The containers were secured on palettes attached to the floor of the plane for stability. The manatees rested on a comfortable, 8-inch-thick bed of foam. They were covered in wool and space blankets to maintain a healthy body temperature and constantly monitored during the flight by care specialists using laser thermometers. To keep their bodies moist, the animals were misted with water under their blankets throughout the flight.

“Moving manatees is an extremely complex process that involves significant planning and logistics to ensure that each specific need is met throughout the journey,” said Cain Moodie, SVP Network Operations, DHL Express Americas. “We are thrilled to play a key role in this initiative to support endangered manatees in the wild, leveraging our team’s expertise to ensure each animal is transported as quickly and safely as possible.”

Yet even as these eight return to their homeland, the conservation work to save manatees never ends – accompanied by a Columbus Zoo veterinarian and Cincinnati Zoo Animal Care team member, five young manatees also caught the return flight back to Ohio to continue their rehabilitation.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium received two new male manatees. Both were rescued as orphaned calves from Charlotte County, Florida on January 20, 2023. They were observed in the same area alone with declining body conditions. At the time of rescue, they were still being bottle fed and now have been weaned for several months.

“We are incredibly proud to collaborate with our dedicated colleagues to help make a difference in the lives of these amazing animals. While it can be a bit bittersweet to see the manatees return to Florida since they all hold a special place in our hearts, it is also a proud moment for us because we know their rehabilitation has been successful. Other manatees are also in need of our help, and we are committed to continue playing a significant role in helping the species survive for the future,” said Becky Ellsworth, curator of the Shores and Aquarium region at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden also welcomed three new females. “As a second-stage rehab facility, we give manatees individual care for several months, including providing plenty of food and veterinary care, until they’re big and strong enough to go home,” said Kim Scott, Curator of Mammals at Cincinnati Zoo. “We may be far from Florida waters, but we love caring for these remarkable animals.”

The manatees were rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state, and federal entities who work together to monitor the health and survival of manatees.

As part of the MRP, ZooTampa and SeaWorld provide critical care, including urgent veterinary treatment, to injured manatees in Florida. The Columbus and Cincinnati zoos are two of only three facilities outside of Florida to care for manatees and serve as second-stage rehabilitation facilities to provide temporary homes, food, and veterinary care for manatees until they are ready to return back to Florida waters.

Including these eight manatees who recently left Ohio, the Cincinnati Zoo has returned 26 manatees to Florida, and the Columbus Zoo has returned 37. To date, ZooTampa has treated more than 500 manatees, and SeaWorld has helped 942 while coming to the aid of 45 manatees in 2023 alone.

Florida manatees are at risk from natural and human-caused threats, including exposure to the loss of sea grass, red tide, cold stress, disease, boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks and entanglement or ingesting of fishing gear.

“It is an ongoing, crucial care cycle that we have going between our partnering facilities,” said Virginia Edmonds, Chair, Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. “That’s the heart of this partnership, working together as manatees continue to face ongoing threats in the Florida waters and knowing we are helping to make a difference.”

Manatees that were transferred back to Florida waters

Manatee (from Columbus Zoo) Rescued Today (to SeaWorld)
Cardi-Tee September 2020 in St. Augustine, Fla.

Weight: 47 poundsWeight: 528 poundsMaryKateFound swimming alone in January 2021 in Blue Springs, Fla.

Weight: 108 poundsWeight: 678 poundsAshleyFound swimming near a deceased adult manatee in January 2021 in Cocoa, Fla.

Weight: 115 poundsWeight: 588 poundsSquirrelMay 2020

Weight when found: 66 pounds

Weight when moved to Columbus Zoo: 116 poundsWeight: 801 pounds (more than other manatees returning from the Columbus Zoo from Florida!)LizzieJuly 2020 in Palm Coast, Fla.

Weight: 63 poundsWeight: 742 pounds

Manatee (from Cincinnati Zoo) Rescued Today (to ZooTampa)
Piccolina (“little one” in Italian) August 2021

The smallest calf ever treated at ZooTampa

Weight: 44 poundsWeight: 755 poundsSoleilJune 2021

Required immediate treatment for an infected umbilical cord when first rescued

Weight: 53 poundsWeight: nearly 1,000 poundsCalliopeApril 2021

Rescued with a partially attached umbilical cord

Weight: 62 poundsWeight: 813 pounds

Manatees sent back to Ohio to continue rehabilitation

Manatee (SeaWorld) Rescued Today (to Columbus Zoo)
Mr. Dobak January 20, 2023

Rescued as an orphaned calf from Charlotte County, Fla.

Weight: 174 poundsWeight: 280 poundsNighthawkJanuary 20, 2023

Rescued alongside Mr. Dobak from Charlotte County, Fla.

Weight: 180 poundsWeight: 370 pounds

Manatee (ZooTampa) Rescued Today (to Cincinnati Zoo)
Nolia January 10, 2023

Rescued in Magnolia Springs/Citrus County, Fla., after suffering from cold stress

Weight: 148 poundsWeight: 265 poundsWafflesJanuary 27, 2023

Rescued with her mother in Port of the Islands, Fla.

Weight: 185 poundsWeight: 325 poundsAmethystFebruary 21, 2023

Rescued in Idiot’s Delight Spring-Kings Bay/Citrus County, Fla.

Weight: 146Weight: 275 pounds


About the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Home to more than 10,000 animals representing over 600 species worldwide, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium leads and inspires by connecting people and wildlife. The Zoo complex is a recreational and education destination that includes the 22-acre Zoombezi Bay water park and 18-hole Safari Golf Club. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also manages The Wilds, a 10,000-acre conservation center and safari park located in southeastern Ohio. The Zoo is a regional attraction with global impact, annually contributing privately raised funds to support conservation projects worldwide. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Columbus Zoo has earned Charity Navigator’s prestigious 4-star rating.

Media Contact: Jen Fields, [email protected]


About ZooTampa at Lowry Park

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to excellence in conservation, education, recreation, and research. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is recognized as Florida’s leading and most attended zoological cultural attraction. ZooTampa and our David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care, were honored among the “Best Zoos” (#6) and “Best Zoo Exhibits” (#4) in USATODAY’s 2023 10Best Reader’s Choice Travel Awards. The Zoo is a twelve-time winner of the Trip Advisor Travelers’ Choice Award (2010-2023), ranking us among the top 10% of attractions worldwide. A winner of 2021 Best of Tampa and is a leader in the rehabilitation and care of Florida species. The Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa and is open seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours for select events. For more information, visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Media Contact: Sandra Morrison, [email protected]

About Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

The world-famous Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is committed to inspiring visitors to care about wildlife and wild places.  It was voted the #1 Best Zoo in a USA TODAY reader poll and has also received rave reviews from Child Magazine, Parents Magazine, USA Today and TripAdvisor.  Over 1.8 million people visit the Zoo’s award-winning habitats, 400 animal and 3000 plant species annually. The Zoo, an accredited member of the Association of  Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) for almost 30 years, is internationally known for its success in the protection and propagation of endangered animals and plants and engages in research and conservation projects worldwide. Known as the #GreenestZooInAmerica, the Zoo is doing its part to conserve natural resources that are critical to saving wildlife and its habitats and is committed to greening its daily operations and reducing its impact on the environment with rain gardens, recycled building materials, solar panels and more. The Cincinnati Zoo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Media Contact: Michelle Curley, [email protected]

About SeaWorld

SeaWorld is a leading marine life theme park and accredited zoo and aquarium that provides experiences that matter while educating and inspiring guests of all ages to care about marine life. Welcoming millions of guests every year, the parks offer fun and enriching experiences from up-close animal encounters and year-round educational programs to award-winning marine-life themed rides and attractions, special events and exciting entertainment. For more than 60 years SeaWorld has advanced the conservation of marine life in and outside its parks through science, education, and exceptional animal care that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. SeaWorld is one of the largest marine animal rescue organizations in the world, helping more than 40,000 animals to date. The SeaWorld Conservation Fund, a non-profit foundation established in 2003, has provided more than $20 million to nearly 1,400 organizations to advance critical research on every continent. A portion of park proceeds goes toward supporting these longstanding conservation commitments. SeaWorld parks are in Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). SeaWorld is part of the SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) portfolio of theme park brands. For more information, visit us at

Media Contact: [email protected]

About DHL

DHL is the leading global brand in the logistics industry. Our DHL divisions offer an unrivalled portfolio of logistics services ranging from national and international parcel delivery, e-commerce shipping and fulfillment solutions, international express, road, air and ocean transport to industrial supply chain management. With about 395,000 employees in more than 220 countries and territories worldwide, DHL connects people and businesses securely and reliably, enabling global sustainable trade flows. With specialized solutions for growth markets and industries including technology, life sciences and healthcare, engineering, manufacturing & energy, auto-mobility and retail, DHL is decisively positioned as “The logistics company for the world”.  DHL is part of the DHL Group. The Group generated revenues of more than 94 billion euros in 2022. With sustainable business practices and a commitment to society and the environment, the Group makes a positive contribution to the world. DHL Group aims to achieve net-zero emissions logistics by 2050.

Media Contact: Robert Mintz, [email protected]