The final leg of 4B the manatee’s epic adventure started yesterday when an air ambulance arrived shortly after 12pm to transport the two-week old youngster to his new home in Tampa, Florida.
The manatee, which was rescued off the shore of West Bay last Wednesday week and has been cared for by the department of environment, was to be flown to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.
The emergency air-lift came after a US CITES permit was rushed through after concerns regarding 4B’s health, Janice Blumenthal, department of environment research officer, said.
‘We are worried about 4B. He urgently needs specialist care, which cannot be offered on island. He is too young to be separated from his mum,’ she said.
Ms Blumenthal hoped that the current terror alerts did not delay 4B’s passage.
‘His time out of the water needs to be kept to a minimum as he is quite weak. We are hoping everything runs smoothly once he arrives in Tampa.’
4B’s journey started with a short trip by road in a Department of Environment vehicle to Owen Roberts International Airport. From there 4B was to be lifted into the air ambulance – a Lear Jet 25 provided by Trinity Air Ambulance – for an 80 minute flight to Tampa, accompanied by a veterinarian.
From Tampa, Trinity Air Ambulance pilot Jacquie William-Wanger said that it would be a further 15 minute journey by road until 4B arrived at his final destination.
Ms Blumenthal said 4B was not sedated for the trip and said that they tried to ensure everything ran as smoothly as possible to avoid any potential trauma or stress to 4B.
‘Obviously whenever you have such a young animal there are no guarantees and there are risks to 4B’s journey. The best situation for 4B would for him to be in the wild with his mother. We can’t care for him properly in Cayman. The second best option is for him to be cared for in a specialist facility.’
Ms Jacquie William-Wagner said that this was the first time the air ambulance had flown an animal. She said they volunteered after the Department of Environment contacted them asking for their help. The interior of the plane has had to be adapted slightly to accommodate 4B. The stretcher has been removed and the crew have built a stabiliser brace.
According to Ms Blumenthal Lowry Park Zoo features a Manatee and Aquatic Centre where 4B will receive specialist care from trained manatee experts and veterinarians.
‘They have one of the best manatee rehabilitation centres. They are skilled at caring for injured and orphaned manatees.’
Ms Blumenthal said that it is thought 4B will remain at the facility for up to two and a half years before being released back into the wild.
4B is an Antillian manatee, a sub-species of the West Indian manatee. No one is sure how 4B came to be separated from his mum, or exactly how he started his adventure to Cayman; however it is thought his mum got lost in a storm and gave birth to 4B in Cayman waters.
It is unusual to see young manatees on their own as they usually nurse for up to two years, Ms Blumenthal said. She added that manatees are not native to Cayman, however are native to nearby Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.
‘We have had second hand information of possible sightings of 4B’s mum. We have investigated these, however unfortunately we have yet to find anything.’
Ms Blumenthal added: ‘It is quite possible that she returned to Cuba, or wherever she came from as if she was in Cayman waters it is likely someone would have spotted her by now.’
Since 4Bs arrival in Cayman the young manatee has been fed a re-hydrating fluid every three hours. The department of environment recently attempted to wean the youngster onto a milk solution; however this quickly resulted in a bout of colic.
‘We put him back on the re-hydration fluid, however we have been trying to slowly re-introduce the milk solution and get him adjusted to this,’ Ms Blumenthal said.
When 4B was first rescued he weighed 53 pounds and has since put on a couple extra – a ‘good sign’ Ms Blumenthal said.
”The best thing we can do for 4B now is to get him to the facility as quickly as possible where he can be looked after by trained manatee specialists.’
The story of 4B has touched the heart of Cayman’s community. Since 4B’s plight was first reported the Department of Environment has been inundated with offers from the general public to help feed 4B and from organisations keen to lend their support.
‘We have had so many people call up and volunteer. We are contacting people to thank them, however it is taking some time as we have had so many,’ Ms Blumenthal said.
Manatees are found in the south-eastern USA, some Caribbean Islands, eastern Central America and the northern coast of South America. They generally inhabit fresh, marine and brackish slow moving waters between three and 20 feet deep, feeding on aquatic vegetation. An adult manatee can grow up to 12 feet in length and can weigh up to 3,500 pounds. Manatees, which can live for up to 60 years, have a torpedo shaped body with a large, flat rounded tail and paddle-like forelimbs with three to four nails at the tips. Hair is sparse, but is most prominent on its muzzle. They generally surface to breath every 30 seconds when active and once every four minutes when resting, however manatees can remain submerged for as long as 24 minutes. In the water, manatees can reach up to speeds of 15 miles per hour.
(Source: Lowry Park Zoo)