Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wildlife sanctuary operator in Tampa hospital after saving rhino from wildfire

TAMPA — A wildlife sanctuary operator who saved a rhinoceros from a fire Friday is recovering at Tampa General Hospital after sustaining second-degree burns on 18 percent of his body, his doctors and fire officials said.

Donovan Smith, co-owner of NGALA Wildlife Preserve on Inez Road, was listed in fair condition after surgery Tuesday afternoon, spirits buoyed by the rescues of a leopard, a Florida panther and Walter, the 8-year-old, 5,000-pound white rhinoceros he has raised from infancy.

Smith, who helped start the refuge 15 years ago, managed a smile in a photo he posted to his Facebook page Friday while traveling to Tampa General.

"NGALA staff teamed together today to save all the animals! The structures and facilities fared well, the property is burned pretty bad, Mother Nature will rebound," Smith wrote.

Staff at the preserve were successful in safely evacuating the giraffe, leopard and more than 40 other animals minutes before the massive fire reached the facility. But Walter and the cats refused to get on the trailer that would take them to safety and were scared by the fire trucks and helicopters used to fight the fire, according to accounts from the hospital and a GoFundMe page.

Smith stayed behind with the animals. He later told his doctors at TGH that most of his burns came while driving a four-wheeler through the facility as the fire closed in on Walter's enclosure.

"I raced through a literal funnel of fire," Smith told a hospital spokeswoman. "You could see the skin blistering on my arms and legs."

Smith stayed with the rhino, calming him down and hosing the enclosure while a fire truck put out the blaze. The fire, which may have been sparked by a lawn mower Thursday afternoon, destroyed at least nine homes and triggered mandatory evacuations for more than 7,000 residents, the North Collier Fire Rescue District reported.

No other animals, or people, were known to be injured in the rapidly moving blaze, according to the fire rescue district.

Smith's friends created a GoFundMe page on Friday, calling it the Donovan Smith Medical Fund, and by Tuesday had reached more than half of a $35,000 goal.

The post included photos of Smith with heavily blistered skin. Updates showed him bandaged and in a hospital bed.

"Get well," wrote Greater Naples Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Christian Tobin, pitching in $250. "You did a heroic job helping us get to Walter! We helped the tortoise too."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

Wildlife sanctuary operator in Tampa hospital after saving rhino from wildfire 04/25/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 5:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  2. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery

    Ml

    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]
  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Busted: How a Times photographer captured Donald Trump's fake news

    Blogs

    Tampa Bay Times photojournalist Scott Keeler was on assignment last summer for a story about Donald Trump’s presence in Palm Beach, a tale of glamour and conflict. Along the way he inadvertently captured evidence of a …

    Near the main entrance at Mar-a-Lago, the fake Time magazine cover is on display in July 2016.
  5. Jones: Steve Yzerman's plan for getting the Lightning back into the playoffs

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — Seems like forever since the Lightning played a hockey game.

    If the Lightning season started right now, would Steve Yzerman be happy with what he has? "We're still a couple of players short,'' Yzerman said.. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]