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Five Orphaned Manatees Have Left Columbus To Return To The Wild

In an event that feels like a scene lifted from the heartwarming pages of a conservationist’s dream diary, the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) has triumphantly returned five orphaned manatees to the azure waters of Blue Spring State Park in Florida.

This significant achievement marks the culmination of a years-long collaborative effort involving an array of partners dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and eventual release of these gentle giants, affectionately known as sea cows.

manatees swimming blue spring state park
Manatees swimming at Blue Spring State Park. Photo by Amanda Carberry, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The journey of these manatees from being vulnerable orphans to resilient survivors is nothing short of inspirational.

Rescued between 2020 and 2021 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and various MRP partners, these manatees found solace and a second chance at life in the caring hands of organizations like SeaWorld Orlando, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Brevard Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, and several others. Their tale is a testament to the power of collaboration and the boundless compassion of those who work behind the scenes in wildlife conservation.

Virginia Edmonds, President of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, highlighted the increasing challenges faced in rescuing injured and orphaned manatees, underscoring the importance of the collective effort in making the releases possible.

blue spring state park
The crystal clear waters of Blue Spring State Park provide the perfect sanctuary for released manatees. Photo by Amanda Carberry, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

“Over the past several years, we have been called upon to rescue an increasing number of injured, sick, and orphaned manatees,” said Edmonds. “We are grateful to our partners for stepping up to the plate to not only rescue animals in need, but to commit countless hours to the collective rehabilitation of these animals, which enabled the releases today.”

But the mission doesn’t end at the water’s edge.

Each manatee has been equipped with a GPS tracking device, ensuring that researchers can monitor their movements and adaptation to their natural habitat, a critical step in ensuring the success of their reintroduction.

This initiative arrives at a crucial moment for Florida manatees, a species that faces significant threats from both natural and human-induced challenges. Dr. Joseph Gaspard of SeaWorld Orlando emphasized the importance of the nearly 50-year legacy of manatee conservation efforts, celebrating the collaborative spirit that made this release possible.

manatee being released into the wild
Manatee Lizzie is prepared for her big release by the team. Photo by Amanda Carberry, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The Columbus Zoo, playing a pivotal role as a second stage rehabilitation facility, has been instrumental in providing a temporary home for manatees until they are deemed ready for release. Becky Ellsworth from the Columbus Zoo shared the profound joy and hope that accompanies the release of these manatees back into their native waters, a sentiment echoed by everyone involved in their journey.

“Words cannot describe the immense joy and hope we feel as we help these manatees back into their native waters after they have been in our care at the Columbus Zoo. We realize there is still more work to do and more manatees to help, and we know that along with our partners through the MRP and the guests who connect with these manatees’ inspiring stories, together we are making a positive difference,” said Ellsworth. She was also on site at Blue Spring State Park to assist with the manatees’ release.

The manatees, named Squirrel, Lizzie, MaryKate, Clank, and TinkTink, have each undergone a remarkable transformation.

From their rescue, through the meticulous care and rehabilitation process, to their eventual release, their stories are a beacon of hope and a powerful reminder of the impact of conservation efforts. Their weights, once a mere fraction of their healthy selves, now reflect their readiness to thrive in the wild.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, alongside its partners, continues to lead by example, demonstrating the profound impact of commitment to wildlife conservation. Their efforts not only enrich the lives of the animals they care for but also inspire a broader audience to appreciate and engage in the protection of our planet’s precious wildlife.

manatee being released into the wild
Manatee Lizzie being released at Blue Spring State Park by the team. Photo by Amanda Carberry, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

As these five manatees glide through the waters of Blue Spring State Park, they carry with them the hopes and dreams of all those who have played a part in their journey.

Their release is not just a success story for manatee conservation. It shows the importance of empathy, collaboration, and unwavering dedication to the natural world. It’s a story that resonates with the spirit of conservation and the enduring belief that, together, we can make a difference.

To learn more about the Zoo’s conservation efforts, head over to