The manatee is an orphan from Daytona Beach. He was brought to the Cincinnati Zoo in June 2005 and thrived in its Manatee Springs exhibit over the next four years. Little Joe then went to Tampa’s Lowry Park, and from there to the wild. He made news last week when teams from Sea World and the Florida the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission removed him from a waterway behind the University of Central Florida campus — he appeared to be emaciated and stuck near a water treatment plant. A video of the rescue is here.
When he was released last May, Little Joe weighed 1,515 pounds. He was plump and primed for life in the Sunshine State. The zoo followed his progress in Florida on its blog.
A year ago, when the last sighting was reported, Little Joe was hanging out with six other manatees and feeding on hydrilla — manna to manatees. The species — sometimes called seacows — are endangered and the Cincinnati Zoo is a partner in a federal program aimed at preserving and protecting manatees. The zoo says some rescued animals need long-term rehabilitation and are sent to special facilities for care,including the Cincinnati Zoo. The zoo says its been home to nine manatees, and the majority have been released back into the wild. “While a manatee is with us, it periodically undergoes a medical exam to assess its progress and condition. Once it's healthy, it is prepared for release back into the wild. Accompanied by zookeeper staff, the manatee is transported back to the Florida facility where it gets used to eating natural vegetation and living in saltwater again,” according to the zoo’s 2011 manatee rescue web page.
Slip and Little Joe in happier days at the Manatee Springs tank at the Cincinnati Zoo.