ORLANDO, Fla. -- A baby manatee rescued and rehabilitated by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden returned to the wild Thursday as a healthy, hefty 2-year-old.
Rescuers discovered Bambam with a severe case of the manatee-specific ailment "cold stress syndrome," a condition manatees develop when falling water temperatures slow their already-slow metabolisms, kill their appetites and weaken their normally "outstanding" immune systems. Manatees who don't find their way to warmer waters can starve to death or succumb to disease as their bodies fail to adapt.
Bambam's rescuers took him first to Sea World and later to the Cincinnati Zoo, where he could gain weight and learn to be a manatee from old hands (well, fins) in Manatee Springs.
He now weighs 700 pounds and measures about 7 feet from his snout to the tip of his tail fin. By manatee standards, he is still a calf -- as an adult, he will likely weigh over 1,000 pounds and measure about 9 feet long.
Rescuers released him off the coast of Florida Thursday, but not before tagging him to ensure they can check up on his health for the next twelve months.
"We just want to monitor him for about a year to make sure he does all the normal manatee things: Finds food, fresh water, warm water site when winter comes back around," marine biologist Bill Greer said in a video posted by the Save the Manatee Club.
Bambam is the 14th manatee to have received long-term rehabilitation at the Cincinnati Zoo before being released, the zoo wrote in a Facebook post.
"So proud to be part of this success story," the post reads.
The Newport Aquarium also takes part in animal rehabilitation efforts -- most prominently their annual rescue and rehab of baby sea turtles.