ZooTampa internal investigation finds vet did not mistreat manatees

Officials at ZooTampa at Lowry Park say they’ve submitted a 16-page report to U.S. wildlife officials in the wake of questions concerning the treatment of manatees by its veterinarian.

Zoo CEO and president Joe Couceiro said Dr. Ray Ball did not cause any manatees to die, did not amputate the flipper of an injured manatee in 2015, and will return to work after being on leave during the internal investigation conducted by an independent board.

However, Couceiro says Ball will treat other animals at the zoo, not manatees, from now on. Couceiro says another vet will be assigned to the sea cows.

“Many of the complaints made with respect to Dr. Ball were the results of misunderstandings and misinterpretations,” Couceiro told reporters on a conference call Monday.

Zoo officials said they were too busy to meet with reporters in person.

As for reports Ball improperly amputated the flipper of a stranded manatee in 2015, Couceiro said, “The manatee’s limb had been nearly severed by a fishing line. The flipper came off during the rescue operation and was not amputated by Dr. Ball.”

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But, Couceiro said, “There’s room for improvement.”

He said the zoo will strengthen its animal welfare committee, which does internal reviews and follows up on complaints.

The zoo’s manatee habitat and hospital have been empty because of renovations, separate from questions raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, that agency must give the go-ahead before manatees can return to the zoo.

A spokeswoman at U.S. Fish and Wildlife said officials there will review the report from the zoo’s internal investigation.