Special to 1808Delaware by Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
SeaWorld, DHL Express, and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium announced recently that they joined forces to help four rescued manatees on their journey to rehabilitation. After that, four juvenile manatees—Lizzo, Cardi-Tee, MaryKate, and Ashley—were transported from SeaWorld’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Orlando to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium where they will begin the next phase of their rehabilitation. DHL Express donated its transportation network for this important species survival effort.
This transport was necessary, given the record number of intakes occurring, to make additional room for rescued manatees in need of emergency critical care at SeaWorld’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, which is one of only five manatee critical care facilities in the United States. As a second stage rehabilitation facility, the Columbus Zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida to care for manatees. The team will care for the animals until they gain enough weight to return to Florida waters when conditions are favorable. Both the Columbus Zoo and SeaWorld are part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a cooperative group of entities dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, release, and monitoring of manatees.
Zoological facilities like SeaWorld and the Columbus Zoo, government agencies, and other wildlife experts are collaboratively working to help save Florida manatees (a subspecies of the West Indian manatee) that have been dying off in high numbers. Recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released preliminary data showing that from January 1 to December 31, 2021, there were 1,101 reported manatee deaths in Florida—almost double the five-year average. The manatees are at risk from natural and man-made threats, most dramatically starvation due to depletion of seagrass (their primary food source), along with cold stress, injuries from boat strikes, entanglement or ingesting of fishing gear, and other illnesses. Listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List, the population continues to plummet to dangerously low levels as the manatees continue to be impacted by what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has classified as an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), an issue requiring an immediate response.
To make this move possible, DHL Express transported the manatees in custom built, state-of-the art containers, accompanied by a Columbus Zoo staff veterinarian and Animal Care curator, who monitored the manatees’ condition throughout the flight. The manatees arrived safely and are settling in nicely.
Additionally, five other manatees in the MRP program are helping to introduce the recent arrivals to their new surroundings at the Zoo’s Manatee Coast habitat—Acorn, Einstein, Squirrel, Scampi, and long-term resident and community favorite, Stubby. Unfortunately, due to Stubby’s extensive injuries from a boat strike, she is considered to be a conditionally non-releasable animal. Her condition is evaluated every five years to determine if she is ready or not to return to Florida, but it is unlikely that she will move out of this category. Stubby often voluntarily assumes the role of a surrogate mother looking after the other manatees. She has already taken a strong interest in the four new manatees, showing them around the habitat. The manatees will have access to behind-the-scenes areas as they continue to explore. This brings the total number of manatees at the Columbus Zoo to nine—the most ever housed at the facility at one time for rehabilitation
Understanding the Intricacies of Animal Transport
“Transporting animals is a precise process where everything must be executed flawlessly,” said Jon Peterson, VP of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando, Head of SeaWorld Orlando Rescue Team, and Chairman of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. “When you add an air component on top of the land transfer, the complexity multiplies exponentially. SeaWorld has decades of experience safely moving animals and the beauty of our partnership with DHL Express is that we both understand what’s necessary and together we won’t proceed with a transfer unless we both are 100% satisfied that every detail is covered, and conditions are perfect.”
Custom shipping crates were built specifically for the manatees and according to the requirements of the International Animal Transport Association (IATA) – the regulatory group overseeing all animal transport over land, air or sea. Working with IATA, SeaWorld helped establish the first transport unit standards for the safe transport of cetaceans and manatees, which include the use of open top units designed to allow the animals to move around and adjust for comfort as needed, but remain safely within their container.
The containers were secured on palettes attached to the floor for stability and constructed of custom high-density foam that made the containers light, but insulated, and contained cutouts for ideal airflow. The animals rested on an 8” bed of open cell foam under a layer of 2” closed cell foam that offset the weight of the animal and provided maximum comfort. They were then covered in wool and space blankets to maintain a healthy body temperature and were 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.
“DHL is thrilled to be a part of this effort to help preserve the manatee population,” said Cain Moodie, SVP Network Operations & Aviation for DHL Express Americas. “We value the partnership we’ve established with SeaWorld and the Columbus Zoo in this endeavor. Moving manatees is an extremely complex process, and our extensive logistics planning and care ensures a safe and quick transport on the aircraft.”
Four Neonatal Rescues Get a Second Chance at Life
“We are incredibly proud that—even from our location in the Midwest—the Columbus Zoo is working with dedicated partners to take an active role in helping these amazing animals in crisis. It is truly devastating to see what is happening to manatees,” said Becky Ellsworth, curator of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Shores & Aquarium region. “The generosity of DHL Express, the commitment and collaboration of our Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership partners like SeaWorld, and the support of our community offers wonderful reminders of the positive impact our efforts can make for manatees. Every individual manatee is important to the species’ future. These new arrivals represent the 36th, 37th, 38th, and 39th manatee that the Columbus Zoo has rehabilitated since Manatee Coast opened in 1999. We recognize that there’s still a lot of work that still needs to be done to help, and even during these catastrophic events, our resolve is strengthened to continue making a difference.”
All four manatees were rescued as neonatal calves by FWC and three of the animals were orphaned. All four have been in the care of rehabilitation experts at SeaWorld Orlando since their rescue for between 12-18 months. Details include:
Once the animals have reached a sufficient size and weight to survive on their own, they will be returned to SeaWorld Orlando, where they will spend a brief time at the care facility before being returned to their native range in Florida.