Making progress on the manatee critical care center

By Joe Couceiro, President and Chief Executive Officer

A hallmark of ZooTampa at Lowry Park is that every day our team takes action to protect the natural world and create exceptional personalized experiences connecting people with wildlife and each other. For example, we recently welcomed the zoo’s first litter of rare, red wolf pups. A new, innovatively designed habitat contributed to the birth of these pups.  This state-of-the-art habitat also allows guests to be part of this unique experience as they see the pups grow and emerge from their den.  For families, we kicked off the summer with a splash – by opening a wild water adventure.  Roaring Springs presented by Pinch A Penny allows guests to trek through Florida and discover endangered native wildlife, then board a boat for a family journey along a flowing stream and feel then feel the roar of a three-story splashdown.  These two additions are now open, and are just a small part of ZooTampa’s recently announced transformation plan.

Additionally, we have been at work behind the scenes on a $3 million upgrade to ZooTampa’s manatee life support capacities.  When the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center opened more than 25 years ago, it set a new standard for manatee rescue and care. From a uniquely-designed observation area, the center gave guests a view of veterinary and rehabilitation procedures in real time. Zoo visitors fell in love with Florida’s gentle sea cows. Through hundreds of rescues, our manatee care team became leaders in successful manatee rescue, rehabilitation and eventually release, helping move these marine mammals back into the wild, inspiring the next generation of manatee lovers.  The newly improved life support system will allow us to provide more advanced, specialized care for the welfare of the manatees. Now we will be able to treat even the most severe cases.

While work progresses on the center, our team is assisting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured manatees. Our veterinary and animal care teams continue to conduct research, for which ZooTampa is internationally recognized as leaders in manatee care. We proactively educate visitors about the role we as humans play in ensuring peaceful coexistence with this vulnerable marine mammal found in Florida waters.

After years of planning and fundraising for the project, the center’s renovations are nearing completion. We are on an aggressive schedule to reopen the center this fall and begin receiving manatees in desperate need of care. It’s our mission to protect and conserve wildlife, particularly native Florida species, like the manatee, and we take great pride in helping save them.  Animal care is at the core of everything we do.