Rhino rescued from wildlife sanctuary fire reunites with caretaker

By Fallon Silcox, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, May 19, 2017, 12:04 PM EDT

Life for a wildlife sanctuary owner is getting back to normal after he was severely injured in a fire last month while helping save a white rhinoceros.

A massive fire tore through the Ngala Wildlife Preserve in Collier County on Friday, April 21. All 45 animals made it out safely — including Donovan Smith’s beloved white rhinoceros, Walter, whom he saved himself.

Smith suffered second-degree burns saving Walter and spent weeks in a hospital recovering.

Now, Smith is back home on his preserve with the animals he loves and shared a happy reunion with Walter. 

“That’s my rhino! Yeah! My boy! Good boy!” Smith said during their reunion.

It has been a month since the pair have seen each other.

“I just want to get in there and rub him, but I can’t. I have to let my skin heal. He’s obviously been traumatized, too. He’s a little spooked,” Smith said.

Smith recently posted on his Facebook page saying life has gotten back to normal, but burn recovery is hard. He also mentions how much he has missed Walter.

“It’s one of the most painful things I had ever been through,” he said.

Now, returning to the preserve, Smith said a lot has changed since the fire.

“It’s almost like a flashback sense, but I know that I’m safe and you know it’s — I see through the damage, but it does hurt a little bit — to see things not the way that they used to be,” Smith said.

Smith shed some skin from the burn, but he said he's also experienced a “spiritual” shedding.

“This has been a very, very humbling experience. I’m broken and stuck in a bed, and the outpouring of love and support of total strangers has been uplifting and given me a lot of inspiration,” he said.

Smith plans to launch a new website, Living Wild with Donovan Smith, where people can keep up with his future adventures.