West African manatees in Ohio? Well no, but the Columbus Zoo does have one of the few Florida manatee exhibits outside of Florida, and also has supported my manatee research in Africa for the past 4 years. They invited me up to Ohio to give a couple talks about my work, so this past week I spoke to their Conservation Committee, as well as a group of zookeepers and docents. It was really fun to be able to share my work with them face to face.
This is a view across the manatee tank. The public is on the right and those are real mangrove trees on the left!
In this view a manatee named Stubby (because she's unfortunately missing most of her tail fluke) is watching the visitors. Columbus currently has 6 manatees... all were rescued due to injuries. There are 4 juveniles who were rescued in Florida with cold stress symptoms (similar to frost bite in humans) during the unusually cold winter last year. They will go back to Florida to be released back to the wild once they're fully recovered.
In the wild, manatees eat aquatic plants such as seagrass on the bottom of bays and rivers as well as plants that grow along the edge of waterways. So captive manatees are fed both at the surface and from bottom feeder units to simulate their natural environment. The manatee exhibit includes a display that discusses manatee telemetry (tracking) research and shows a real tag and belt. I hope to create similar displays in several African museums.