TAMPA, Fla. — At ZooTampa, animal handlers are working to save a record number of injured manatees — including a mother sea cow and her calf brought in just days ago.
Staffers quite literally have their hands full, trying desperately to rehabilitate an unusually high number of manatees.
“Unfortunately, we’ve taken quite a few manatees with severe boat strike injuries that are going to be really challenging for us to fix here at the zoo,” ZooTampa Manatee Curator Molly Lippincott explained.
Zoo Tampa currently has enough room to care for about 17 manatees at a time. But they are working on an expansion project that would nearly double that capacity.
The latest sea cows to arrive are Lluvia and her calf Morado. Their names, in Spanish, mean purple and rain.
“She’s fairly stable at this point. Luckily her injuries are not as severe as some of the others,” Lippincott said. “But you just never know what’s going on internally completely. So, right now what we’re doing is just keeping her stable. We’re giving her fluids.
"Making sure her calf is nursing and gaining weight is also important.”
FWC captured Lluvia and her calf after receiving a report from someone who noticed the mother sea cow was unable to submerge. Her body is bloated by air escaping a collapsed lung which was likely punctured by broken ribs resulting from a boat strike.
“They’ve had it really rough over the last 10 or 15 years. Between not enough food, really cold winters, it’s been really challenging for the manatee,” Lippincott explained. “And I would like them to be in for many years to come. So maybe we can slow down our boats and save a few more.”
Incredibly, her caretakers say they were actually able to recognize Lluvia when she was brought in.
That’s because she was tagged in 1995, and they made note of her markings. In all those years, she had managed to avoid an injury that brought her to one of the state’s three critical care centers.
“They are an incredibly resilient animal and can come through a lot. I kind of wish I didn’t have to, though,” Lippincott said. “It would be really great to see an adult manatee with no scars on them. That would mean that they’ve been out there and haven’t had to have those problems.”
The good news is that Lluvia is eating, and she’s been successfully nursing Morado. Both are good signs.
Her caretakers say it will be a couple of months before they can say for sure how she’s doing.
“I am optimistic for both of them,” Lippincott said. “And I can’t wait for the day they get to go home.”