With luck, two endangered Florida manatees will answer the call of the wild sometime this winter or next. But they won't be making their journey via flipper power. The first leg of their trip was completed by air this summer when express carrier DHL flew the two from the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio to SeaWorld Orlando in Florida.
The manatees, four-year-old Rodeo and 10-year-old Stoneman, were transported to their native Florida as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. As part of the program, staffers coordinate the care of injured, sick or orphaned manatees at facilities across the country in preparation for their release back into the wild.
More than 20 DHL personnel were involved in planning the move, but they had help from expert advisors. Animal experts from the Cincinnati Zoo and SeaWorld Orlando worked with them to map out every aspect of the manatee shipment, including container specifications, variable manatee weights, and in-flight temperature, food and access requirements.
Improbably enough, neither manatee was a first-time air traveler at the time of this summer's flight. Stoneman, a 900-pound male born at the Miami Seaquarium, had traveled via DHL to the Cincinnati Zoo for the opening of its Manatee Springs exhibit in 1999. Rodeo, too, had flown via DHL in the past. A 500-pound male manatee rescued in May 2004 off Merritt Island, Fla., after becoming entangled in a crab trap and fishing line, Rodeo spent three months recovering from his injuries at SeaWorld Orlando before he was flown to the Cincinnati Zoo in September 2004 to finish his rehabilitation.
Stoneman is scheduled to be released into the wild this winter and Rodeo is scheduled to be released in the winter of 2006. The exact release dates will be determined once they reach their ideal weight and have been given a clean bill of health.