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Facing long odds, Buttonwood dies at zoo

The baby manatee, rescued in May, had been gaining weight with a feeding tube. Necropsy results are pending.

Published July 12, 2003

TAMPA - The staff at Lowry Park Zoo knew it would be a tough case when a newborn manatee arrived in May.

The manatee, called Buttonwood, was a day or two old. It had been abandoned by its mother and was underweight at 48 pounds. The animal had been rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission off the shores of Buttonwood Bay south of Naples.

Caretakers at the zoo tried to bottle-feed Buttonwood, but he never got the hang of it. A lactating female manatee, Sani, rejected him.

Then Buttonwood began receiving nourishment from a feeding tube. The manatee began to gain weight, and his condition seemed to be improving.

But on Friday, Buttonwood died, zoo officials said. A necropsy was conducted to determine the cause of death, and results are expected within two to three weeks.

"Part of rehabilitating manatees is knowing not all will survive," said zoo spokeswoman Heather Sitton. "But it's still a difficult time for everybody."

The manatee had drawn interest from animal lovers across Florida. Caretakers at the zoo bonded with the animal, Sitton said, but they knew the odds were against him from the day he arrived.

Sitton said the story has raised awareness about the plight of manatees, but that will be little consolation for hundreds of people who have called and e-mailed the zoo during the past few months, wondering about Buttonwood.

"There are a lot of people out there that care about Buttonwood and are going to be upset that he wasn't able to recover," Sitton said.

Since 1991, more than 120 manatees have been rescued and brought to the zoo's manatee and aquatic center, the only nonprofit facility of its kind.

Eighty-five to 90 percent of manatees that survive longer than 48 hours are successfully treated and returned to Florida waterways.

[Last modified July 12, 2003, 02:03:26]

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