| Naples Daily News
Three boys of the Salaski family took turns holding a parrot and getting high-fives from its bird claw at a new animal space at the Wonder Gardens on Wednesday.
The parrots, which were abandoned by former owners, can be older than 50 and have seen 2-3 homes before finding space at Parrots and Parasols, which greets visitors, said David Rahahe:tih Webb, president and CEO of the Wonder Gardens.
“This is their forever home,” Webb said at a Wednesday ribbon cutting ceremony.
A volunteer or staff member always will be with the birds, letting visitors interact and play with the parrots. The area replaces a koi pond that once stood near the entrance. New signs direct visitors to alligators, lorikeets, a tea house and other enclosures.
The Salaski family was getting away from the northern winter for a week in Southwest Florida and came to the Wonder Gardens. The family’s excitement showed as they wandered the paths of the 3.5-acre slice of land in downtown Bonita Springs.
“We love it,” Tony Licavoli, the boys’ grandfather, said. “It’s more hands-on than we would have thought.”
Nine-year-old Emerson Salaski was more impressed with the beefy alligators floating in the Wonder Garden’s signature pool. He was sunburned from a day at Fort Myers Beach the day before.
Marilyn Lightner, who donated $25,000 to pay for Parrots and Parasols, said any family and friend visiting Florida has two desires.
“They want to see a beach and they want to see an alligator,” Lightner said. “There’s plenty of beach, but the (Wonder Gardens) is about the only place to find an alligator.”
Lightner moved to Bonita Springs 21 years ago and said you could find the Wonder Gardens “by following the smell.”
“It was an alligator breeding pit,” she said. “It was horrible.”
Over the past five years, she’s gotten more involved and helped the nonprofit continue moving forward. The city bought the property in 2015 and had a nonprofit organization run the local landmark site.
Parrots and Parasols is the first in a string of openings, Webb said. Two flightless bald eagles will find a home in a new enclosure that replaced a dilapidated shed in the north side of the property.
“They would have been euthanized if we wouldn’t have taken them,” Webb said.
The birds of prey should move in before the month ends.
A pair of barred owls will also have a new enclosure. The space used to hold bears after the Everglades Wonder Gardens opened in the 1930s. More recently, it was used as a space for turkeys.
The Parisian-style pavilions have been slightly repurposed. One houses lorikeets and another golden pheasant. The butterfly pavilion will soon house ornamental ducks.
Guided tours of the Wonder Gardens will allow interaction with these animals in addition to the flamingos and peacocks that wander the grounds. A particularly flamboyant peacock ended the ribbon cutting ceremony by splaying his feathers to the delight of visitors.
As the new birds are introduced to the Wonder Gardens, Webb continues working in the background. His next goal is to hire a veterinarian on retainer. The nonprofit’s largest fundraising events have been canceled because of COVID-19, but a letter campaign is in the works, Webb said.
The hired vet is necessary, Webb said.
“We had to take a flamingo with arthritis to the vet in a car,” he said. “Can you imagine what that was like? We need a vet who can come to us.”