CINCINNATI -- It's been a busy 48 hours in Manatee Springs at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
The zoo rescued three orphaned male manatees from Florida: Pippen, Miles and Mathew, according to zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley.
The addition is bittersweet, though, says Curley. The zoo released two manatees, Betsy and BamBam. Betsy has been at the Cincinnati Zoo since 2010; she's returning to her birthplace, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Florida, ahead of her 27th birthday.
Curley said saying goodbye to Betsy was especially difficult for zoo staff "who have become attached to the charismatic animals."
"While we do get attached, we know that this is all part of a much bigger picture," manatee team care member Lindsay Garrett said. "Each time a manatee leaves, it means they are going back to the wild and that we’ve done our job. The wild population of manatees gets to add another member, and we can provide a home for another animal in need"
BamBam was transported to SeaWorld in Orlando where he'll prepare for release back into the wild, expected sometime in early 2018, Curley said. He was rescues from the wild in 2015 as he battled "severe cold stress."
BamBam will be the 14th manatee released back into the wild with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. That's the same partnership that brought the three new manatees to the zoo this week.
"Being part of the MRP is a huge undertaking," Garrett said. "It is no small feat to be a part of this, and I am proud that the Cincinnati Zoo is doing something to give these animals a second chance."
Betsy is not a candidate for release into the wild; she'll be taken care of by staff at the state park for the rest of her life, Curley said. A manatee's average lifespan in the wild is 40 years, according to National Geographic.
The three new manatees at the Cincinnati Zoo were all rescued from Florida between July and October of 2016, Curley said. Pippen was rescued from the Halifax River and weighed only 58 pounds. Miles was rescued from Merritt Island and weighed only 43 pounds. Mathew -- who was found just after Hurricane Matthew -- weighed 56 pounds when he was found and rescued from New Smyrna.
The three have been at SeaWorld in Orlando beefing up -- Pippen is the smallest at 225 pounds, but the other two gained more than 250 pounds in their year at SeaWorld.
The new manatees will be visible to viewers as early as Oct. 23, but there's a chance they'll "be shy" and stay out of view initially, Curley said.
“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,” Zoo Director Thane Maynard said. “There’s nothing better than being able to work with these amazing creatures and ultimately see them return to the wild.”