The orphaned twins manatees haven’t been back to Florida since their mother was killed by a boat strike almost two years ago.
But now, after 22-months of rehabilitation at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, Millennium and Falcon, have begun their journey back to the wild off the Florida coast.
First, the twins will get their southern sea legs at Miami Seaquarium, such as dining on local sea grasses, before being released in the Florida Keys in the next few months.
“We care deeply about all off the manatees who have come to the Columbus Zoo for rehabilitation, so each goodbye is a little bittersweet, especially when it comes to these incredibly special twins,” Becky Ellsworth, the Columbus Zoo’s shores region curator, said in a statement.
Their mother, Bonnie, was tracked for years by local researchers when she died in 2016.
Twins, which are exceptionally rare for the species — perhaps just 1 to 4 per cent of all manatee births.
And Bonnie’s twins were tiny when they were scooped up from the water. Each weighing just around 100 pounds — small considering adults can balloon up to 1,300 pounds.
They wound up in Ohio as part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Program. The Columbus Zoo is still caring for five other manatees.
“Given how small they were when they first came under our care, we are also very proud to have helped Millennium and Falcon overcome their challenges so that now, at approximately 525 pounds each, they can be healthy enough to be released back to their native range,” Ellsworth added.
They arrived safely in Miami.
Today, manatee’s Millenium and Falcon arrived at our park! Rescued in 2016 after their mother suffered a boating accident, they spent nearly two years rehabilitating at @ColumbusZoo. We welcome them to ur family as we prepare their release in the Florida Keys. pic.twitter.com/Ep2VJda1gn
— Miami Seaquarium (@MiamiSeaquarium) September 18, 2018
The Florida manatee is considered a threatened species.
Boat strikes, fishing gear, gates and red tide, which is an algal bloom, as well as cold water all hurt the animal’s chances of survival.
The Columbus Zoo is one of only two facilities outside of Florida which is accredited to help rehab and return the creatures to the wild.