Manatee Center Expansion Will Improve Animal Care, Provide ‘Connected’ Visitor Experience – Action News Jax

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s no denying that Florida’s diverse ecosystems and animals play an important role in the state’s image and culture. But due to various factors, many of these animals are constantly threatened for their survival.

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A place in our own backyard is taking significant steps to improve its facilities while providing visitors with a more personal experience.

The Jacksonville Zoo has big projects underway, and they’re going to benefit one of Florida’s favorite animals: the manatee.

A $25 million upgrade to the Manatee Critical Care Center is currently underway. An opening date is scheduled for the end of 2024.

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“The primary function will be acute care and rehabilitation,” said Craig Miller, curator of manatee conservation at the Jacksonville Zoo. “It will be an extension of what we are currently doing. Our guests will be able to see animals rehabilitating themselves in a more natural setting.

To do this, the zoo will build a replica of the free-flowing spring-fed Florida River, to mimic where manatees normally congregate in the wild.

The goal is to give injured or cold-stricken animals the best chance of recovery while providing visitors with a habitat that makes them feel a close connection.

“Our main goal has been to make sure this facility is working well for rehabilitation, so that we can treat as many animals as possible and get them back to the wild as quickly as possible,” Miller explained. “It’s also a very important goal to make sure guests feel connected to these amazing animals and the work we do, so key to the design is that the manatees can comfortably move between the habitats where guests can see them and hold it from the pools where they receive treatment.

Pictures: Orphaned manatees will return to Florida after being treated in Ohio

Cullen Richart, construction projects manager at the Jacksonville Zoo, said the special habitat “will include all species of fish, reptiles, birds, and manatees found in our wild, clear rivers. The river will come from a mock-up of the Steinhatchee Waterfall channel section, wagon wheel ruts and all.

While boat strikes continue to be a huge problem for manatees, Miller says poor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon has led to algal blooms that block sunlight and cause the death of the herbaria. Manatees depend on seagrass beds for food, especially in winter.

“Animals arrive underweight and often experience starvation-related complications,” Miller said.

While these problems persist in our waterways, Miller and Richart are optimistic about the role the new expansion will play.

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“All of the organizations that do this important rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring work make up the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership,” Miller said. “And by the way, the general public is an essential partner when it comes to saving manatees, as they are the ones who find and report sick and injured animals.”

Richart added, “We are the gateway to Florida for millions of people and this habitat will provide a tremendous opportunity to educate our visitors about the other Florida and how important it is for all of us to protect our partners. natives and their habitat. ”

Benjamin M. Yerger