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ZooTampa releases manatee after 15-month rehabilitation

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Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 16:32:43-04

TAMPA, Fla. — After a 15 month rehabilitation at the Manatee Critical Care Center, ZooTampa released a female manatee back into the wild Wednesday.

Bellissima, Italian for "beautiful," was rescued from Beautiful Island in Lee County after she was found by a hiker. When Bellissima arrived at ZooTampa in March 2021, she had severe wounds to her body and flippers, was weak, and was about 300 pounds underweight.

After more than a year in rehabilitation, Bellissima is now healthy and weighs 1,445 pounds. She was released Wednesday morning at Horton Park in Cape Coral.

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"It's always a good day when we can return a manatee back to the wild. The resilience of manatees always inspires us, and Bellissima is no exception," said Tiffany Burns, Director of Conservation for ZooTampa.

“We are so thankful to the hiker who found and reported her and to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) team who rescued her and brought her to our manatee critical care center,” said Dr. Melissa Nau, Director of Animal Health

ZooTampa has cared for more than 500 manatees, with the majority returned to the wild. Residents can help save manatees by reporting sick and injured manatees to FWC at 1-888-404-3922.