The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has welcomed three new orphaned manatees from Florida in what may be the most bittersweet trade ever.
The zoo announced on Wednesday that its popular manatees, BamBam and longtime resident Betsy, have been brought back to Florida following successful rehabilitation stints at the zoo.
The news may come as a blow to those who grew attached to the manatees, especially Betsy, who had been at the zoo since 2010 and was a companion to nine other manatees, including BamBam, in that time.
"While we do get attached, we know that this is all part of a much bigger picture," said manatee care team member Lindsay Garrett. “Each time a manatee leaves ... the wild population of manatees gets to add another member, and we can provide a home for another animal in need."
While Betsy and BamBam won't yet be re-entering the wild — BamBam will receive care at SeaWorld Orlando until a possible release in early 2018, and Betsy will remain at her birthplace, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, for the rest of her years — they certainly left a big space in Manatee Springs.
But not for that long.
In returning Betsy and BamBam to Florida, the zoo brought back to Cincinnati three orphaned manatees: Pippen, Miles and Mathew. A fourth orphan, Goober, was sent two hours northeast to the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.
The orphans — all male — require rehabilitation and come from SeaWorld Orlando.
“We are extremely proud to be part of this conservation program and excited to welcome Pippen, Miles and Mathew to their new home in Cincinnati,” said zoo director Thane Maynard. “There’s nothing better than being able to work with these amazing creatures and ultimately see them return to the wild.”
Get to know Manatee Springs' new residents:
• Pippen was rescued from the Halifax River on July 20, 2016, weighing only 58 pounds. After receiving critical care at Sea World Orlando, he now weighs 225 pounds. He is the smallest manatee ever to live at Manatee Springs.
• Miles was rescued from the Sykes Creek on Merritt Island on Aug. 17, 2016, and weighed only 43 pounds. After receiving critical care at Sea World Orlando, he now weighs 320 pounds.
• Mathew was rescued from New Smyrna on Oct. 9, 2016, right after Hurricane Matthew. He weighed 56 pounds and is now up to 340 pounds.