Lowry Park Zoo’s rehab team prepares to release Laroc in Homosassa Feb. 4. Laroc arrived in 2010 as a 63-pound orphaned newborn from the Caloosahatchee River near Cape Coral where she was found alone and dehydrated.
TAMPA – Four sick manatees arrived at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo in January, meaning the zoo has now taken in more than 300 manatees for critical care and rehabilitation since 1991, and of those 173 have been re-introduced into Florida waters.
Among the successes is an orphaned calf named “Laroc” that was released in Homosassa on Feb. 4 after more than two years of care at the zoo. Laroc arrived in 2010 as a 63-pound newborn from the Caloosahatchee River near Cape Coral where she was found alone and dehydrated, trying to feed on algae along a seawall. She is one of the youngest and smallest orphan calves to be raised by the zoo’s manatee rehab team. Laroc weighed in at more than 700 pounds upon her departure.
“This endangered species has been at the heart of the zoo’s commitment to conserving Florida wildlife for more than 20 years,” said Craig Pugh, executive director and CEO. “A modern zoo connects animals in its care to wild places. At Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, we focus on the welfare of each manatee patient that comes to us so that we can help to conserve the species in Florida waterways. Conservation education programs at the zoo reach more than 1 million visitors annually about how to protect manatees when they leave the hospital.”
In 2012, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo was honored with a “Significant Achievement in North American Conservation Award” for its work with manatees, presented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is a proven leader in wildlife conservation,” said AZA president and CEO Jim Maddy. “While all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums make conservation a top priority, this award brings well-deserved recognition to this institution for making a positive impact on the future of this species.”
The zoo’s manatee hospital currently houses 10 patients who arrived with a variety of ailments including boat strikes, cold stress, orphans, red tide exposure and entanglement. In 2013, the Zoo has received:
• A 248-pound male orphan with cold stress from Longboat Key on Jan. 2
• A 400-pound female suffering from red tide exposure from Ft. Myers on Jan. 13
• A 325-pound male suffering from red tide exposure from Bonita Springs on Jan. 17
• A 220-pound female orphan with cold stress from Pinellas Park on Jan. 28
“As the only critical care manatee facility on the West Coast of Florida, we are pleased to have the capacity and expertise to make a meaningful contribution to the wild population of these treasured Florida species,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, vice president of animal science and conservation.
The most recent data collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in the winter 2011 synoptic survey counted 4,834 wild manatees in Florida waters. The survey method provides a minimum count of manatees statewide, but it does not provide a population estimate.
The David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is the only non-profit hospital in the world specifically dedicated to critical care for injured, sick and orphaned wild manatees. The zoo works in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its Florida Wildlife Research Institute to rescue, rehabilitate and release Florida’s endangered manatees. The zoo has received a $500,000 challenge match for manatees from Tampa residents Marylou and Jim Bailey dedicated to make significant improvements to the zoo’s manatee facilities. Every $2 received from the community will be matched by one dollar from the Bailey family to raise a total of $1.5 million. To support the manatee hospital, visit LowryParkZoo.com and select “Get Involved and Donations.”
The zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa.