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Donovan Smith: Battling Collier Wildfire to Save Walter the Rhino

Photo: Donovan Smith
Donovan Smith recovered from burns he suffered during spring wildfires near the NGALA Wildlife Preserve in Naples.

It’s been four months since wildfires raged across Collier County, burning thousands of acres, destroying homes, and coming life-threateningly close to the NGALA Wildlife Preserve in Naples. Locals watched as the flames inched closer to the animals that were difficult to evacuate. Animals like Walter the rhino.

When the fire got too close, NGALA owner and lifelong wildlife advocate Donovan Smith raced his four-wheeler through the preserve to protect the white rhinoceros. Smith calmed the animal while hosing down Walter’s enclosure with water until firefighters were able to beat back the blaze.

He saved his rhinoceros but suffered second degree burns over 20 percent of his body. Smith joins Gulf Coast Live to discuss his recovery, his passion for animals, and how the menagerie at the preserve is doing, including Walter.

Matthew Smith is a reporter and producer of WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.