Noah built an ark to save the world’s animals from a world-engulfing flood. Jim Bronzo has built a wildlife sanctuary in Central Florida to rescue thousands of animals with nowhere else to go.
Bronzo and his creatures have seen fire and rain and weathered the storms. Nearing 62, Bronzo bears the joy and the pain of a heart that has unconditional love for animals. It’s been a calling of his since his days as a wildlife trapper, which eventually morphed into establishing the Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit refuge in Orlando, in 1985.
It began innocently enough. As a trapper, Bronzo sometimes took his “work” home with him, finding a more humane alternative to euthanizing the animals he was called to remove.
Bronzo’s menagerie starter-set grew exponentially. There are now about 350 animals living with him in a 3-acre property, along the Big Econ River in East Orlando on acres of wetlands.
“You heard of the crazy cat lady?” he said. “This is like the crazy animal person. You have no life. You have to be dedicated to these animals.”
Whooper swans. River turtles. Goats. Emus. Sulcata tortoises from Africa. Peacocks. Muscovy ducks. Iguanas. Geese. Cockatiels. Parakeets. Snakes. Dogs. Cats.
They create their own chaotic soundtrack, with birds chirping incessantly, a handful of emus scampering about and an earthy odor permeating the air from the pigs and other creatures rolling around in the dirt and mud.
Bronzo wakes up every morning at 3:30 a.m. By 4 a.m., he is at a local Publix picking up donated produce and other food items, which he serves for breakfast, along with a hundred or so scrambled eggs. But paradise has also seen its share of hell.
The sanctuary has weathered hurricanes that have damaged and flooded the property. Then came the fire. Around 1:30 a.m., on Feb. 4, 2019, a screaming peacock awoke Bronzo to a terrifying scene: Flames were enveloping his home at the sanctuary. He screamed at his four dogs to run. Not used to the sound of that loud tone, the dogs instead went for cover in the house.
“I looked out the window and saw the orange flames…I had no clothes on. I had no phone,” he said. “I screamed out, ‘Somebody help me! Somebody please help me!’” Three of his dogs would be among the 41 animals who perished. “Saddest day of my life,” Bronzo said.
Thanks to the generosity of Friends and strangers, who raised $190,000, Bronzo was able to keep his sanctuary and rebuild from the ashes.
But everyday remains a struggle. It costs about $100 a day to feed the creatures, notwithstanding the donations from Publix.
“If it wasn’t for Publix, I couldn’t even have this place,” he said. Bronzo relies on donations and selling artwork, mostly images of celebrities or pet portraits from customers. COVID-19 has brought additional challenges, because some people can’t afford to keep their exotic animals; or with more time on their hands, during walks and such, they stumble onto creatures in need
Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking. Except for a paid, part-time caretaker, and occasional volunteers, Bronzo is a one-man operation. And he is cognizant of his age and eventual limitations.
“I have to know when to say when,” he said. “There’s a fine line between becoming a hoarder and not being fair to the rest of the animals.”
Jim Bronzo isn’t a hoarder. He is a savior. If animals could talk, they would echo the same sentiment. Through it all – together — they have withstood death and destruction, defiant in their purpose.
“The animals need the help,” he said. “And if there’s nobody who will take them, I’m there for them.”
Exponential kindness and unconditional love are Jim Bronzo’s most admirable qualities. They also are his greatest weaknesses. Each day he strives to find a balance that won’t break his heart.
Please visit SecondChanceWildlifeSanctuary.org to learn more or make a donation.