Officials said that an early-morning fire on Thursday killed nearly all the animals at a wildlife center in Madeira Beach, near St. Petersburg on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputies say the blaze was reported around 2 a.m. Thursday and impacted both the Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center and Beach Bites & Burgers. Fire Chief Clint Belk of the Madeira Beach Fire Department said crews were forced to shift to a “defensive operation” due to deteriorating conditions, and the blaze was under control in about 45 minutes. Belk said: “We keep oxygen masks on the fire truck for dogs and cats, but this is just such a rare occasion. They’re all exotic animals.” An investigation is underway to determine the cause.
A post on the wildlife center’s Facebook page said: “We suffered from a tragic fire last night. Nearly all of the animals are gone. We are devastated.” Sonny Flynn, who owns the center, told local Tampa Bay station WTSP that all of the mammals inside the building died and many of the reptiles were injured. Small mammals, lizards, amphibians, turtles and tortoises, fresh and saltwater marine life, and alligators were among the 250 animals at the center. Flynn said about 95% of the animals at the center were “pet surrenders because people didn’t know how to take care of them, or they weren’t able to take care of them,” adding, “they didn’t deserve this. This is my whole life They all have names, they all have personality, I come in every morning and talk to them like Dr. Dolittle.”
According to its website, the Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center was founded in 2011, and has changed its focus to education and conservation: “Our immediate goal is the provision of humane, professional care for pet surrenders and orphaned native wildlife that cannot be safely returned to the wild.”
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