Two Healthy Manatees Return to Florida and Three Arrive in Cincinnati for Rehab

Posted October 18, 2017

Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership coordinates big move

Matthew, Pippen, Miles after arrival in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (October 18, 2017) Popular manatees Betsy and BamBam have left the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden to return to Florida waters. This is good news for the species but bittersweet for divers, care team members and visitors who have become attached to the charismatic animals, especially long-time resident Betsy.

Three orphaned manatees in need of rehabilitation, Pippen, Miles, and Matthew, were brought back to Cincinnati from SeaWorld Orlando and will soon be swimming and receiving tender loving care in the Zoo’s Otto M. Budig Family Foundation Manatee Springs habitat. A fourth rescued orphan was sent to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The multi-institution moves represent collaborative efforts by participants of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a program designed to rescue and treat sick, injured and orphaned manatees and then release them back into the wild. BamBam will be the 14th manatee to be released after being rehabilitated at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“Being part of the MRP is a huge undertaking.  While we do get attached, we know that this is all part of a much bigger picture. Each time a manatee leaves, it means they are going back to the wild and that we’ve done our job,” said manatee care team member Lindsay Garrett.  “It means that all of the time and effort was worth it.  The wild population of manatees gets to add another member, and we can provide a home for another animal in need.  It is no small feat to be a part of this, and I am proud that Cincinnati Zoo is doing something to give these animals a second chance.”

BamBam should get his second chance in early 2018.  He’ll be cared for by manatee experts at SeaWorld Orlando, where he received critical care for severe cold stress after his 2015 rescue, until he’s ready to be released.  SeaWorld’s Rescue Team is on call 24/7, 365 days a year, and always ready to help an animal in need.

Betsy, a Cincinnati Zoo resident since 2010 and companion to nine rescued manatees during that time, has returned to her birthplace, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, just in time to celebrate her 27th birthday!  She is not considered a candidate for release and will be cared for at the park long term.

“The work that the MRP does for manatees cannot be overstated,” said Jon Peterson, manager of rescue operations for SeaWorld Orlando. “All of the groups involved play a key role in manatee conservation, whether it’s rescuing the animals, providing around the clock care for manatee calves in critical condition or providing a temporary home for juveniles until they have been deemed returnable, we’re all working together to give individual animals and the entire population a second chance to thrive.”

Pippen being cared for at SeaWorld Orlando after being rescued.

About the New Residents of Manatee Springs:

  • Pippen (Male) was rescued from the Halifax River on 7/20/2016 weighing only 58 pounds.  After receiving critical care at Sea World Orlando, his weight is now 225 pounds.  He is the smallest manatee ever to live at Cincinnati Zoo’s Manatee Springs.
  • Miles (Male) was rescued from the Sykes Creek on Merritt Island on 8/17/2016 and weighed only 43 pounds.  After receiving critical care at Sea World Orlando, his weight is now 320 pounds.
  • Matthew (Male) was rescued from New Smyrna on 10/9/2016, right after Hurricane Matthew. He weighed 56 pounds and is now up to 340 pounds.

About Columbus Zoo’s New Resident:

  • Goober (Male) was rescued on 3/16/2017 from Desoto Canal in Indian Harbor Beach Florida. His weight was 220 pounds and his is now up to 345 pounds.

“We are extremely proud to be part of this conservation program and excited to welcome Pippen, Miles and Matthew to their new home in Cincinnati,” said Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. “There’s nothing better than being able to work with these amazing creatures and ultimately see them return to the wild.”   The Zoo can still keep tabs on BamBam after he is released. He will be outfitted with a satellite tracking device so his health and wellbeing can be monitored by the MRP.  Information about manatees currently being tracked is available at


The Sea Cow Shuffle:

With the help of DHL, the world’s leading logistics provider, the “Sea Cow Shuffle” began at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, October 17, when Betsy and BamBam were driven to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to board a flight to Florida accompanied by a manatee care specialist and a Zoo veterinarian.

At each airport, the manatee crates were placed in an open-top cargo crate that was locked into the cargo hold. The manatees were kept as far away from engine noise as possible while waiting to be loaded and their crates were loaded last, so that they could be unloaded first after arriving at their destination.

The same scenario happened in reverse at the other end, but the return flight included twice as many manatees. DHL flew the four small manatees to Cincinnati and the Columbus Zoo picked Goober up from the Cincinnati Zoo and drove him by truck back to their facility.

Collaborating to Save Species:

The Cincinnati and Columbus Zoos are the only U.S. facilities outside of Florida to participate in the USFWS’ Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, which began in 1973.  They are second stage rehabilitation facilities that provide temporary homes for manatees until they are ready for release back into the wild.  Since Manatee Springs opened in 1999, the Zoo has welcomed, with the arrival of new residents, 18 manatees.

The Florida manatee, recently downgraded from endangered to threatened, is at risk from both natural and man-made causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide, cold stress, and disease are all natural problems that can affect manatees. Human-caused threats include boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear. As of 2016, the population was estimated to include 6,000 animals.

When to See New Manatees in Manatee Springs:

Miles, Pippen and Matthew will spend the next few days getting acclimated to their new surroundings.  Visitors should be able to see the new manatees as early as Monday, October 23, but there’s always the possibility that they’ll be shy and stay out of view.  If that’s the case, they’ll still be visible on a monitor in the Manatee Springs lobby.