Doors snap shut one final time for Kelowna’s CrocTalk

Reptile education and conservation centre in Kelowna closes down after the province and city refuse to extend permits.

Doug Illman of the now closed CrocTalk Conservation and Rescue Centre in Kelonwa with one of 'McGators.'

After years of struggling to keep it open, the owner of CrocTalk Conservation and Rescue Centre, a Kelowna business aimed at educating the public about, and helping to promote conservation efforts for, crocodilians, African wild cats and tortoises, has closed.

Owner Doug Illman, who called CrocTalk his “dream for the community,” made the announcement on his personal Facebook page last weekend.

He said  he wanted to leave a “exciting, educational footprint in Kelowna for generations to come. To learn about these wonderful, mysterious reptiles.”

But he said when the province would not renew his zoo permit because the facility’s temporary use permit had expired for the land CrocTalk has sat on for the last 11 years and the the city refused to renew his business licence or extend the temporary use permit for another six months to allow him to relocate, the financial burden became too much. That was despite the efforts of a few dedicated supporters who tried to raise money for the facility.

Throughout the process Illman said concern for the welfare of the animals at the facility was paramount.

“My animals have never suffered and never will and with the help of my friends Paul “Little Ray” Goulet of Little Rays Reptiles in Ottawa and Lonnie McCaskill, curator at the Central Florida Zoological Park, we had to start the process of relocating my family of crocodilians, including the McGator Family we have all come to love and cherish so dearly”.

Attempts to contact Illman Thursday were unsuccessful, with his mobile phone voice mailbox reporting as full and the office number for CrocTalk no longer in service.

During it’s 11-year operation, CrocTalk seemed to face constant financial pressures, with the threat of closure seeming to regularly raise its head. But Illman managed to come through repeatedly, keeping CrocTalk open. When the facility finally closed for good last week there was a fundraising effort afoot to try and save it.

But this time there was no last minute reprieve.

“This is very hard for me to write because these animals, especially the McGators have been my life,” wrote Illman. “I will still walk with my head held high because CrocTalk has influenced thousands of families, schools, boys and girls clubs, universities/colleges and tourists throughout the years here in Kelowna.”

He said the facility had a perfect safety record and CrocTalk helped support many students who went into veterinary medicine because of its programs.

He thanked everyone who supported the facility over the years and appealed to anyone who could financially take over management of the facility to help him create what he called a new CrocTalk in Kelowna, Lake Country or West Kelowna.

But he said if that was to happen, it would need to happen quickly as “the clock is ticking down to the time my crocodilians are removed and shipped elsewhere.”

And he said once they are gone, “they will not return.”

No deadline for the animals removal was given but in closing Illman declared “the City of Kelowna needs a zoo.”