On Friday, October 2, the Zoo bid farewell to its youngest manatee, Abigail, in preparation for her release back into the wild. Upon her arrival to the Cincinnati Zoo back in 2013, Abigail weighed just 295 lbs. At three-and-a-half years old, Abigail was rescued from the Indian River system near Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida. Suffering from cold stress, Abigail received critical care at Sea World Orlando before coming to Cincinnati.
Now up to healthy 630 lbs, Abigail is ready to go back to the wild. “The departure of Abigail brings both sadness and joy to our hearts. We will miss her but are happy to see her return home, fully recovered. She plays a vital role in the recovery of this endangered species,” said Zoo manatee keeper James Vogel. Veterinarian Dr. Mark Campbell and manatee keeper Megan O’Keefe accompanied the manatee on her overnight journey on a DHL flight to Miami Seaquarium, where she will stay until she is ready to be released into her native habitat. She will be released back into the waters in Brevard County once she becomes acclimated (at Miami Seaquarium) to the natural diet and brackish water found in that region. Her movements will be tracked via satellite for one year.
Abigail is the 14th manatee to be rehabilitated at the Cincinnati Zoo and will be the 13th to be released back into Florida waters. The Cincinnati Zoo is one of two U.S. zoos outside of Florida that participate in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. The goal of this program is to rescue and treat sick or injured manatees and then release them back into the wild.
The Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) is a cooperative group of non-profit, private, state, and federal entities who work together to monitor the health and survival of rehabilitated and released manatees. Information about manatees currently being tracked is available at www.ManateeRescue.org. The endangered Florida manatee 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.
Abigail’s companion at Manatee Springs, 25-year-old Betsy, will remain in Cincinnati long term and will be joined by another manatee in need of rehabilitation in the next few months.