Behind the bulky bank teller counters, pythons and bearded dragon enclosures sit atop empty safes.
Offices where people used to apply for loans now house alligators and lemurs. Tortoises roam freely, and squawking lovebirds perch near the entrance.
Sonny Flynn, 58, is the owner and director of the Madeira Beach Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center. On July 13, a fire swept through the building, killing about 150 animals. She said four of them were endangered species.
Now, about 40 of the more than 100 animals that survived the blaze — some of which Flynn said are critically endangered — are temporarily sheltered in an old bank building slated for demolition.
“This used to be a Bank of America,” she said. “Now it’s a bank of animals.”
Some of the survivors still bear scars.
There’s Walla, the frilled neck lizard, who suffered burns above its right shoulder. And Oogway, a tortoise recovering from a respiratory infection inflicted during the fire and whose shell was darkened by smoke from the blaze.
Oz, the only snake to survive the fire, didn’t eat for two months.
“We were really worried about him,” Flynn said.
She weighs the turtles and tortoises every week — losing weight is an early indicator of respiratory illness in reptiles.
Flynn said the fire ran between 1,500 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — nearly hot enough to melt steel. The cause is still under investigation, authorities say.
“I’m really surprised anything survived,” she said.
Aside from the animals and a handful of wildlife center employees, the bank has been mostly empty since the center’s reopening. Only six families showed up Tuesday, the day after Flynn opened the temporary shelter to the public. She said she is used to greeting hundreds of visitors each day.
July is typically the center’s busiest month. But after missing out on revenue from ticket sales, Flynn said she has resorted to paying her eight staff members from her personal retirement fund.
“My whole life is gone right now,” she said. “I haven’t received a paycheck and I have rent. I have lemurs and a fox to take care of. They eat before I do.”
The building was insured and the owner will rebuild it with the insurance money, Flynn said, but the habitats and exhibits were not insured. She said she will need $150,000 to fully reconstruct the center’s facilities and she is counting on donations to do that.
Community support has been huge for the center, Flynn said. She has received donation checks, including one for $23,000. The center has raised another $15,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. There also have been fundraisers and nonmonetary donations, such as items for raffles, the tanks and enclosures housing the animals at the bank, food for the animals and $10,000 in computers from Odin Gaming of St. Petersburg.
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In addition, Flynn said, the Michael and Robin Lally Forward Foundation said it would match up to $75,000 in community donations. She’s already received the first matched donation from the foundation for nearly $27,000.
Flynn said she hasn’t tallied up the total donations yet.
In addition to all of the donations, she said, the owners of the building volunteered to let her use it rent-free until January, when it will be demolished to build condominiums.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens and The Florida Aquarium are caring for most of the center’s alligators. Two of the warm-blooded reptiles are sheltered at the bank in an office with a window big enough for them to bask beside.
The rest of the surviving animals not sheltered at the bank are scattered across other nearby zoos, sanctuaries and aquariums.
Flynn said she hopes to move back into the original building by Thanksgiving, though she expects renovations to continue far beyond the holidays.
Four of the original habitat units, only damaged by smoke, will be the first to open, she said.
Chandler Campbell, 25, has worked at the center for more than a year. She handles mammals, most of which — about 30 — were killed in the fire. Now Campbell spends most days caring for the center’s two lemurs: Chewie and Wicket.
She’s frequently returned to the damaged building to help with cleanup since July.
“It’s nice to actually go in there and kind of be a part of the cleanup, as hard as it has been,” Campbell said. “It definitely was difficult to go back.”
Flynn said she and her staff have been operating out of the bank building for the last month. Floodwaters brought by Hurricane Idalia reached the bank’s front doors but didn’t get into the building. During the storm, she said she took 15 animals home with her.
“Thank God it’s a bank because they’re prepared for storms,” she said.
Flynn said she misses the education the center provided to visitors. Lengthy plaques describing the animals hung near exhibits. Now, only short, printed notes are available for people to read. She said she’s looking forward to hosting field trips, like previous excursions to nearby beaches, which provided hands-on learning experiences for students.
Flynn has had to cancel birthday parties and other outings to John’s Pass that the center would normally host.
The temporary location is now more than a mile away from the beach that had acted as an extension of the wildlife center.
Despite the bank’s limited space, Flynn still hasn’t turned away any incoming rescues. She’s added about 20 new animals, who have joined 40 survivors occupying the temporary center since the fire.
“If anybody knows me — my staff will tell you — if I have wall space then I have animal space,“ she said. “We’ll make do.”
The wildlife center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 14805 Gulf Blvd. in Madeira Beach.