Two manatees are back in Florida after spending two years undergoing rehabilitation at the Cincinnati Zoo. "Miles" and "Matthew" arrived at a SeaWorld Orlando facility Tuesday as they prepare for the final steps before release back into the wild.
Zookeepers didn't return empty handed. They were accompanied by 435-pound orphaned "Truffleshuffle," who becomes the 20th manatee to enter the zoo's rescue and rehabilitation program.
The juvenile male was rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last November. He was taken to SeaWorld Orlando and treated for cold stress. The zoo reports he gained 230 pounds before this week's transfer to Cincinnati.
The zoo expects Truffleshuffle will be well paired with "Pippen," a third manatee that arrived with Miles and Matthew but isn't yet ready for release.
"When we brought Pippen, Miles and Matthew to Manatee Springs our hope was that they would return to Florida together. But just as human children experience variable growth rates so too do young manatees," says Winton Ray, curator of invertebrates and manatees, in a statement. "Pippen, who currently weighs about 500 pounds is thriving, he's just naturally a smaller animal and will need another year to reach to the minimum release weight of 600 pounds."
Cincinnati is one of two zoos outside of Florida to participate in the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), which rescues and treats sick, injured and orphaned manatees before releasing them back into the wild.
The zoo in August returned another manatee to Florida. "Daphne" was the 19th manatee to go through the zoo's program.
Daphne, Miles and Matthew are all scheduled for release after the winter, according to a zoo official.
Florida manatees were downgraded from endangered to threatened last year. The population was estimated at 6,000 animals in 2016.
The Cincinnati Zoo created a video documenting the manatees return to Florida.