POWELL, Ohio (WCMH) — Size, cost and distance from natural habitat are a few reasons why Central Ohioans’ access in Columbus to manatees is so unique. Not every zoo and aquarium can provide the care that they do at the Columbus Zoo, but sadly it’s something that is increasingly needed.

“It’s vital. In fact, it’s so vital that the federal government has really asked us to assist with this. U.S. Fish and Wildlife service don’t have the capacity to care for injured manatees and facilities like Manatee Coast, so they rely on zoos and aquariums around North America to help,” said Tom Schmid, CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The Columbus Zoo’s Manatee Coast is considered a second stage facility. The manatees that come here are not critically injured and in recent years, have mostly been orphaned calves.

“They just need to eat. They need to get stronger. Get a nice layer of fat on them before they go into the wild,” said Becky Ellsworth, Curator of the Shores and Aquarium exhibit.

When those orphaned or injured manatees arrive in Columbus, they are greeted by an incredible care team and a surrogate mother of sorts, the queen of the zoo, Stubby.

“Stubby is one of our conditionally non-releasable animals. Stubby gets evaluated every five years by the manatee program,” said Ellsworth. “So that includes blood draws, getting a urine sample, just getting hands-on her for weight and measurements and things like that.”

Not only does Stubby help the babies feel at ease and grow in their abilities, she also plays a huge help to the care team.

“We have learned a lot from Stubby. We’ve learned how to draw blood better and she had some major medical concerns that we were able to work through with her and she was able to participate in her medical behaviors. so, it’s really special,” said Ellsworth.

“This is a great story. It’s a bit of a bittersweet tale in that the reason that these manatees are here is because they’ve been rescued. They’ re suffering challenges in Florida, anything from boat strikes to the loss of sea grass, which is impacting the number one food source. So, we want to do everything we can to help this protected species,” said Schmid.

You can help Stubby and the rest of the manatees simply by visiting the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. A portion of ticket and membership sales go to support Manatee Coast and other rehabilitation programs. Learn more here: https://www.columbuszoo.org/