Wildlife Preserve Owner Recovering From Burns, Saved Rhino From Wildfire

A Florida wildlife preserve owner is recovering from burns he received while saving a rhinoceros from a wildfire that threatened his animal sanctuary.

NGALA Wildlife Preserve President and CEO Donovan Smith remained at Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday after sustaining second-degree burns over 18 percent of his body last week.

Smith spoke to NBC 6 affiliate in Fort Myers WBBH about the ordeal from his hospital bed. 

"I raced through and...it was a literal funnel of fire. I thought it was going to be a little piece, but it was half a mile...with fire on both sides," Smith recalled.

Greater Naples Fire District
A rhino at the Ngala Wildlife Preserve in Collier County was rescued as a wildfire raged on Friday.

The fire began to close in Friday on the wildlife refuge in Naples, southwest Florida, burning about 7,000 acres. Smith posted on Facebook that staff members saved all of the more than 40 animals there.

He says he was working with fire rescue crews to save Walter, an 8-year-old rhino, at the time he was burned. But he said in his post Saturday on Facebook that it was worth enduring the pain to protect the animals.

"I decided to put myself in harm's way essentially, mitigating the risk the best I could to keep everyone safe, including the animals," said Smith.

A GoFundMe page set up to help pay for Smith's medical bills collected more than $19,000 in a matter of three days.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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