Columbus Zoo, Columbus Ohio

Columbus Zoo, Columbus Ohio

Happy September! If you are in the US, I hope you had a great Labor Day weekend!

Some of you may or may not know, but Ocean4 is based in Cleveland, Ohio. Thus we are very excited about this month’s article, as it comes from an Ohio Zoo! The Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio! Thank you so much to Patty Peters and her team as well as photographer Grahm S. Jones for all of the photos.

Columbus Zoo logo_fin_08

Q: When was the Manatee Coast exhibit created? When was the manatee rehabilitations program started and why was it important to the Columbus Zoo to be such a big part in manatee conservation?

A:  The Manatee Coast exhibit opened in 1999, but The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium joined the US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery and Rehabilitation Program in 1997.  This program began in the early 1970s with the goal of assisting injured and distressed manatees in the continental United States and the Caribbean. To date, the Rehab Program has successfully rescued, medically treated, and released hundreds of injured and distressed manatees.  Initially, The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium saw a need to be part of this conservation effort in 1996 when Jack Hanna filmed a show in Florida at Homosassa Springs Florida on Manatees.  Columbus saw this as a unique opportunity to be directly involved with manatee rehabilitation despite the geographical distance that separates Ohio from Florida.  To share the story of these amazing animals, while playing such a large role in conserving them, supported the mission of the zoo in every way.


Q: How long did it take to design and construct the Manatee Coast Exhibit?

A: The project began in August 1997 and Manatee Coast opened in June 1999.

Manatee Coast 0049 - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the exhibit to construct or create? What element was the most crucial to have in the exhibit?

A:  Typically pools are sterile chlorinated environments.  We developed a system to create a healthier, chemical-free environment that could be home to manatees as well as waterfowl, fish and sea turtles while still meeting strict USDA filtration requirements and ensuring clear water to enhance the guest experience.  This was the first mixed species habitat created for manatees.

Guest at Manatee Coast

Q: The Columbus Zoo works with other institutions and agencies to create such a successful rehabilitation program. What key part does the Columbus Zoo play in the manatee rehabilitation program?

A:  The rehabilitation program would not be as successful as it is without the great working relationship with many zoos and aquarium experts, wildlife biologists, veterinarians and government agencies.  The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s role is one of a longer term rehabilitation facility for manatees.  After entering one of three triage facilities in Florida, manatee experts will determine if the animal is a candidate for short or long term care.  When the animals arrive here in Columbus, our role is to give them top notch care in order to get them back to Florida for release.  Sometimes this is as simple as making sure the manatee puts on some needed weight.  Other times, the animal is orphaned and needs to be given a bottle several times a day.


Q: What type of facilities do you have behind the scenes that aid in rehabilitating the manatees?

A:  Behind the scenes is an additional pool that is 60,000 gallons.  This pool can function independently from the main pool if there is an animal that might need extra care.  There is also an area to perform physical exams and a large crane and sling to weigh the manatees.  The life support system in Manatee Coast is technically advanced, giving us the ability to manipulate temperature, salinity and many other factors to assist in the rehabilitation of the manatees.  And of course our greatest asset behind the scenes is a dedicated group of keepers and zoo staff who are committed to taking excellent care of the animals.

Manatee Coast  - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Q: What is the biggest concern with their health? Injuries, viruses, habitat lost, etc?

A: Manatees have no natural enemies and therefore have developed no natural defenses.  Aside from weather, the only threat to the manatee is man.  Most deaths are caused by boats.  Manatees are slow moving in comparison to motor boats.  They cannot move out of the way fast enough and are either hit, or cut, by the propeller blades.  In fact, scientists tracking manatees in the wild identify manatees by their scar patterns.  Approximately 90% of Florida’s’ manatees can be identified by the scars on their bodies.  Fishing lines and crab lines can also be harmful to their flippers and tails.  Since manatees only reproduce every 2 -5 years, it is difficult to maintain the population.  Many times a mother is killed, leaving her calf orphaned.  Usually, this results in the infant’s death.

Despite their appearance, manatees have a relatively thin layer of fat.  The majority of manatee’s bulk is composed of an extensive digestive tract.  Manatees must remain in water that is warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  If they stay in water below that temperature, they will develop “Cold Stress” which is similar to the problems humans develop with extreme cold…like Frostbite.   This is why manatees migrate from northern waters to southern Florida in the winter months.  Sometimes, if the weather changes quickly, manatees will not have enough time to migrate to warmer waters.

Habitat loss and natural occurrences such as Red Tide are also a concern with manatees.

Manatee 5318 - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Q: How many manatees have the Columbus Zoo been apart of rehabilitating and returning to the wild?

A:  Nineteen manatees have called Columbus home since 1999.  Of those, 11 have been released into the wild.

Manatee 0054 - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Q: What is one of the most valuable things learned from being apart of the manatee rehabilitation program?

A:  One of the most valuable things learned is that every animal that comes into Manatee Coast is an individual.  Each one has their own likes, dislikes, and personality.  One of the biggest aspects in rehabilitating them is learning who they are and what works for them.  No two animals have ever responded the same, whether it is to necessary medical treatments, or the types of treats they prefer to eat.  Having the patience to get to know the manatee is a valuable tool for its success in the future of the program.

Manatee 0015 - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Q: What is your personal favorite aspect of the Manatee Coast and manatee rehabilitation program?

A:  Without a doubt, seeing a manatee leave Columbus on a plane to Florida, knowing you have been part of a team that gave it a second chance at life.  What could be better?

Manatee 0008 - Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and AquariumGrahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium