Manatee care review by outside veterinarians underway at ZooTampa
TAMPA, Fla. (November 8, 2018) – Leadership at ZooTampa at Lowry Park announced today that a three-veterinarian, expert panel is in Tampa beginning an in-depth review of the zoo’s manatee care program and treatment performed by the zoo’s senior veterinarian, Dr. Ray Ball, DVM.
Joe Couceiro, President and CEO of ZooTampa at Lowry Park, immediately called for the independent review after receiving a letter on Oct. 22 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The letter requests responses to questions about four manatee treatments performed by Dr. Ball, who has received grants from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to conduct field research on treating injured manatees in the wild.
“We take any and all questions about animal care very seriously,” Couceiro said. “When we received the letter, we initiated an independent review. The Zoo’s track record of providing excellent care in manatee rescue, rehab and release has been exceptional, and is recognized nationally and internationally.” The Zoo’s manatee program is held up by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) as a leading example of what zoos do for wildlife conservation globally. Since 1991, ZooTampa has cared for more than 400 sick or injured manatees.
The detailed assessment by the committee includes review of the Zoo’s manatee facilities, care protocols, treatment and research records, and other documentation, including reports on manatees treated in the field. Field research is supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund through a grant to develop and implement field treat-and-release opportunities for entanglements, including amputations, and underweight young, independent animals.
The veterinarians conducting the review all have extensive experience treating manatees and other marine mammals at nationally accredited organizations. Facilitating the panel is attorney James F. Gesualdi, who is from New York and is recognized for his expertise in regulatory and legal issues on animal welfare and wildlife conservation.
A recent article in a Tampa daily newspaper reported that some former zoo employees allege that, in their opinion, there was improper manatee medical treatment performed by Dr. Ball.
“While we encourage every Zoo employee to think independently, especially about animal care, the medical decisions ultimately rest with the veterinarians. Wildlife veterinary medicine is complicated. That’s why we will rely on credentialed veterinarians with manatee expertise and outside experts to review information and compliance with accepted standards of veterinary medicine,” said Couceiro, adding that, “Our animal care team at ZooTampa is deeply committed to protecting and helping save Florida manatees and other state endangered wildlife.”
The review process is expected to take two weeks and will result in a comprehensive report prepared by Gesualdi. Findings and any recommendations will provide important information for the Zoo to answer the USFWS’s questions which are due by Dec. 7.
“We, of course, will make results of this expert-panel report public after we have provided Fish and Wildlife Service with its requested reply,” said Couceiro. “We will provide updates as they become available.”
About ZooTampa at Lowry Park Manatee Program
The Zoo’s manatee hospital was the first facility designed specifically for manatee treatment, and first nonprofit, acute care center of its kind. The Zoo’s program is committed to the rescue, rehabilitate and release of manatees back into the wild while conducting scientific research to advance conservation.
The Zoo’s manatee program has been recognized for excellence by the WAZA and received the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) 2012 North American Conservation Award. With grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, the Zoo has performed ground-breaking research in manatee health, resulting in the first pregnancy test in manatees, nutritional advances, the development and implementation of field surgical techniques, and the creation of a centralized database to inform best practices in the care and protection of manatees worldwide.
The Zoo educates nearly one million visitors annually on the need for personal action to ensure the survival of this sentinel species for ecosystem and human health.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to excellence in conservation, education, recreation and research. The Zoo is accredited by the AZA and is featured among the “Top 25 Zoos in the U.S” by TripAdvisor (2015).