Thursday, September 25, 2003

Before heading home, zoo's manatee learning to be free



By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] At Cincinnati Zoo's Manatee Springs exhibit Wednesday, Douglas steals the show from Thane Maynard, vice president of public information.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's 9-year-old manatee named Douglas will return to his native Florida on Nov. 1 to get ready for release into waters off the Florida Keys.

Orphaned as a calf and rescued in 1995, Douglas has spent the past four years as one of the two main attractions in the Cincinnati Zoo's Manatee Springs Exhibit. His partner, Stoneman, will remain at the zoo and eventually be joined by another manatee sent from the Columbus Zoo.

Terri Roth, vice president of animal sciences at the Cincinnati zoo, said the 900-pound sea cow will be flown to the Miami Seaquarium, where he can get used to eating sea grasses instead of lettuce. He also needs to get used to changes in water temperature and salinity he will encounter in the wild.

Stoneman and Douglas are currently held in a 120,000-gallon fresh-water tank at the zoo. It will take three or four months to prepare Douglas for release.

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Douglas also will be equipped with a radio transmitter that will send signals every time he breaks the water. That way, scientists can track his movements from afar. Manatees are slow-moving mammals.

Douglas will be captured and given physicals three times in the first year. Roth said that if he is healthy after the initial year, the release will be considered a success.

"Our main concern is a successful reintroduction for Douglas," Roth said. "If at any time Douglas' adaptability into the wild is in question, he will be returned to a facility for further rehabilitation."

Both of the zoo's manatees came to Cincinnati through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife program that allows manatees to be moved to zoos in Columbus, San Diego and Cincinnati for continued rehabilitation. The ultimate goal for every manatee - listed as an endangered animal - is return to the wild. There are an estimated 3,000 Florida manatees.

E-mail dklepal@enquirer.com




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