The facility was home to over 250 animals
On Thursday morning, a devastating fire broke out at the Alligator & Wildlife Discovery Center, engulfing the building in heavy flames and thick smoke. Fire Chief Clint Belk informed WFTS that firefighters arrived at the scene to find the fire already raging.
According to the center’s website, the facility was home to over 250 animals. However, a Facebook post from the center revealed that nearly all of the animals had perished in the fire. The diverse range of creatures housed at the center included lizards, small mammals, amphibians, turtles and tortoises, various marine life, and, of course, alligators.
Originally established in 2011 as an alligator attraction, the center underwent a name change in 2020 to emphasize its focus on education and the conservation of all animals. The facility held licenses from the USDA and various Florida agencies.
Sonny Flynn, the owner of the center, expressed his devastation at the loss. He explained to WTSP that approximately 95% of the animals were surrendered pets, as people lacked the knowledge or ability to care for them properly. Tragically, all of the mammals housed within the building perished, while many reptiles suffered injuries.
Flynn deeply mourned the loss, emphasizing that these animals were his entire life. He had formed personal connections with each of them, giving them names and recognizing their individual personalities. Flynn would regularly communicate with them, akin to the fictional character Dr. Dolittle.
The incident represents a significant loss to the center and its mission of education and conservation. The animals’ well-being and the memories built within the facility will be cherished and deeply missed.