Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and City Partner to Harvest Hyacinth

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A manatee patient at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo feeds on water hyacinth.

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and City Partner to Harvest Hyacinth

Nov 23, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. (November 15, 2011) – Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the City of Tampa Water Department have partnered on a water hyacinth harvesting project to provide a natural food source for wild manatees in rehabilitation at the Zoo, while removing this invasive plant from the City reservoir.

“This is a great opportunity that not only benefits the city, but also helps support an important resource - our manatees,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “I want to applaud the Tampa Water Department and Lowry Park Zoo for working together and forming this unique partnership.”

The Tampa Water Department provides the equipment and staff to collect the hyacinth at the reservoir intake site, and assists in the transfer of the plant material to Zoo staff on a weekly basis. After retrieving the material, Zoo team members from the commissary and animal care departments sort and remove debris and non-usable plant matter. Any usable material is stored in the manatee food cooler in large bins and is utilized to supplement the dietary needs of the marine mammals that are known for their voracious appetites.

Amounts harvested in the first month of the program (mid-October to present) range from 60-110 pounds per week, which will vary seasonally. A healthy manatee can consume up to 10 percent of its body weight per day, which equates to hundreds of pounds of greens a week. Zoo animal care staff estimates that it can cost as much as $30,000 a year to feed a single adult manatee if only store-bought produce is used.

If the collection of water hyacinth is successful over time, it is expected to dramatically decrease the cost of feeding the manatee patients by replacing high-cost romaine lettuce (currently the dietary staple) with natural plant matter. “Although it is not possible to replicate the exact diets these animals consume in the wild, supplementing with a natural resource provides nutritional and cost benefits,” said Dr. Larry Killmar, VP of conservation science and director of collections at the Zoo.

The David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is the only non-profit hospital in the world specifically dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured, sick and orphaned wild manatees, and one of just three manatee rehabilitation facilities in Florida. The Zoo’s program has treated more than 290 manatees to date -- about 5 percent of the state’s most recent wild count. Of those, more than 150 have been successfully re-introduced into Florida waters.

The Zoo recognizes “Manatee Awareness Month” each November to help educate guests about the endangered status of manatees, the importance of aquatic and marine habitat preservation, and the steps necessary to conserve the population. Stop by the Zoo’s David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital on the weekends during the month of November to meet a keeper and learn more about how to make a difference.

About Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to excellence in education, conservation and research. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and has been named the No. 1 zoo in America by both Parents magazine (2009) and Child magazine (2004). The Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa, one mile west of I-275 (exit 48) and is open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with extended hours on select nights during special events. Zoo daytime admission prices are: adult - $23.95, seniors (60+) - $21.95, children ages 3-11 - $18.95, and children 2 and under are free. Daytime admission is value-priced to include unlimited amusement rides. Parking is free. For more information, visit www.LowryParkZoo.com or call 813-935-8552.

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