By Coastal Breeze News Staff
There are those who like animals and then there are those who LIKE animals. Walking in the footsteps of Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter known for declaring “CRIKEY” at every new challenge, Kevin Hennings has set up the non-profit, Florida Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG). “The primary principle of the Florida Wildlife Advisory Group is education and conservation. All revenue after operations will be structured into a scholarship fund for kids wanting to pursue a college degree in the science field,” said Kevin.
Prepping for an official grand opening in January, Florida Wildlife Advisory Group is full of activity. There is feeding, cleaning and expansion happening already, as well as educational seminars and presentations. “This afternoon we’ll be giving a presentation with our alligators for about 50 girl scouts at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples,” said Kevin as he took a break from working to expand an enclosure. “You’ll be able to check it out on Facebook.” Florida Wildlife Advisory Group has alligators at Nature’s Wonders at the Ritz and at its headquarters at Gator Adventures. “We are working with other conservancies to improve educational programs and we share information obtained through our research programs.”
Working on the grounds feeding the turkeys was Mark Robinson, a volunteer who heard about FWAG through Kevin’s wife, Molly-Kate. “I like to assist with causes which support children,” said Mark. “The first day here Kevin had me holding an alligator. It was unbelievable! I live between here and Boston, and just put on a golf marathon with 126 players, all to raise funds for children. This was a natural fit for me while here and one I find interesting and enjoyable.” Many more volunteers are needed to run the organization and, as a non-profit, will meet requirements for student volunteer hours.
Besides alligators of various sizes (including a 13 foot monster!), Gator Adventures has ducks, peacocks, turkeys, bunnies, and birds, including a macaw, a cockatoo, and an Amazon parrot. They also have what look like goats, but as Kevin explained, “They aren’t goats, they’re Barbados Black-bellied sheep. The birds, well, they are all rescue birds.”
“Many kids fade out of education when they get into the service industry. Many had a dream to pursue science, we hope to help them fulfill this desire. Whatever we can do, whether it be enough to pay a bit of rent or books, we know every bit helps. We entertain college internships. They actually did a research project while we were rebuilding over the summer. So we work with people who are at that educational level and we work with people who want to be at that level.
“We do relocation and rescue of alligators. Alligators are extremely intelligent. They play a huge part in our ecosystem. An alligator is an apex predator. Not long ago a study was published on how a crocodilian is not susceptible to infection. They incorporated crocodilian blood with Mersa, the deadliest skin infection to humans, and the crocodilian’s blood killed the MRSA. There are so many purposes they bring to the table, but yes, they’re also dangerous!
“We have regularly scheduled shows for Alligator Wrestling. You can hug and hold an alligator, or go through the petting zoo, in addition to the seminars and presentations we offer.”
So, how does someone decide they want to do something like open a place to wrestle an alligator? “A combination of things led me to this. My own children, Kevin and Ryne, got me interested. When kids want to further their education, scholarships help. We have a terrific board of directors which includes a biologist, a doctor, educators and other talented, qualified people. My own little brother, a doctor, is on the board. We got to talking about his college days and how scholarship money helped. My son, Kevin, morphed a snake at just nine years old. I remember looking at the colors on the snake and said, “You just bred your own morph of snake, what are you going to do next? He told me he wants to breed an albino alligator.” CRIKEY!
The Grand Opening celebration is set for January 12, 2013. There will be a live radio remote, special activities and a raffle courtesy of some area businesses. Be sure to mark your calendars for a day of fun! 20018 Tamiami Trail, the corner of 92 and Hwy. 41. Stop by anytime, or call 239/877- 7875 or 239/394-0380.