Manatee “Wooten” is Heading Back to Florida

Posted October 16, 2012

CINCINNATI (October 16, 2012) – Wooten, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s 630-pound Florida manatee will soon be heading home!  After arriving at the Cincinnati Zoo two years ago, Wooten will return to the wild as part of the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. Visitor’s last chance to see Wooten at the Zoo’s Otto M. Budig Family Foundation Manatee Springs exhibit will be Sunday, November 4.  Coincidentally, Wooten was seen at the Cincinnati Zoo for the first time on November 4, 2010.   Video of Wooten –

The USFWS recently deemed Wooten releasable, after nearly two years at the Cincinnati Zoo, as he now has enough extra weight to transition to life in the wild.   He was brought to the Cincinnati Zoo after being rescued in Wooten’s Pond, near the city of Ochopee, Florida, in Collier County. Due to his size at the time, experts agreed that he was more than likely an orphaned calf.   Young manatees, left alone in the wild do not typically fair well as they have no protection from large predators.  In addition, they seem to stay in the area they lost their mothers, which can result in cold stress if they are late fall travelers.  They are usually very weak and are in need of nourishment, when rescued, as they are typically still of nursing age. 

On November 5, Wooten will travel to the Miami Seaquarium before being released into the Orange River, near Ft. Myers, at a date still to be determined.  Since he was rescued near the Orange River, it is hoped that he may have some recollection of the area which would benefit him greatly.   

Wooten is the 11th manatee the Cincinnati Zoo has rehabbed and released back to the wild.  The Cincinnati Zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to participate in the USFWS’ Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program.  This Program began in 1973 with the mission of rescuing and rehabilitating distressed and injured Florida manatees.  The fundamental purpose of the program is to release these rehabilitated manatees back into their wild habitat. 

“Wooten is the perfect example of why facilities like the Cincinnati Zoo are so important for the long-term management and care of these amazing animals,” said Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo.  “Without rescue, rehabilitation and release programs for manatees, animals like Wooten would die from being orphaned at a young age, without the knowledge to survive on their own. Seeing him released back into the wild is yet another major accomplishment for conservationists around the world.”

Orphaned manatees are considered “Naive”. In the first two years of a manatee’s life, its mother shows it what to eat, what dangers to avoid and most importantly, the routes necessary to migrate to warm water springs. These behaviors are not instinctively known. They must find warm waters each fall in order to survive winter water temperatures, which can be as low as 50 degrees in parts of Florida. Though manatees are large animals, they have very little resistance to cold temperatures and prolonged exposure to temperatures below 65 degrees result in a condition known as “Cold Stress”, symptoms of which include skin ulcers, digestive system failure, cardiopulmonary issues and death.

Manatees can live up to 60 years of age. However, human activities throughout the years have accounted for about one-third of the known manatee deaths each year with watercraft collisions comprising the greatest human-related threat. Most adult manatees bear permanent scars from watercraft propeller strikes.  In January of 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) reported a preliminary count of 5,076 manatees statewide. This aerial survey is the highest population count since surveys began in 1991. Unfortunately, the number of known mortalities continues to increase.