TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Zoo Tampa received three very important manatees over the weekend as part of a collaborative effort to save the species.

The manatees were loaded onto a cargo plane using special containers to ensure their safety.

“We just keep them comfortable, we keep their skin moist, we keep them in air conditioning if it’s the summer, if it’s the winter we just put heat,” said Molly Lippincott with Zoo Tampa.

The three manatees were originally orphaned in Tampa.

“They were rescued because they were small enough that they should have been with a mother, and unfortunately, no mom was around,” Lippincott said.

The three manatees, named Piccolina, Soleil, and Calliope, now weigh a total of more than 2,500 lbs. The plan is to continue to work to raise their weight so they can be released back into the wild.

When the three manatees were first found, they had not been with their mother and their weight and health had been suffering.

“All three were small and actually get bottle fed by our team — definitely still dependent on milk and it does sound really cute, but it is really challenging situation for our team to get a wild animal on a bottle,” Lippincott said.

Now the team says they are gaining weight and doing much better.

“Our goal with all of our manatees is to rehab and release them all, and so we want to be hands-off with those animals. We want them to be as wild as possible and so it is a tricky situation, we want to get them milk and get them fed, but we want to get them weaned from that and get them on their own,” Lippincott added.

The manatees will be released on a cold day in February in an area where other manatees congregate naturally around warm springs in the winter.

“Manatees are migratory and they need to migrate into warm water sites in the winter, natural springs, or man-made power plants. If they stay in cold water for an extended period, anything below 72 degrees they can actually get really ill,” said Lippincott, who said experience has shown them that the other Manatee will teach the orphans how to feed, how to migrate and how to live in the wild.

“What we do here at our facility is incredibly important to saving manatees and we’ve had over 500 come through our doors and this year alone we had 17 come in, in two months,” Lippincott said.

Lippincott said her team at Zoo Tampa is doing everything it can to preserve the species that is now estimated to number only about 7,000 in the wild in Florida.