Doug Illman is facing one of his biggest challenges since opening his conservation and rescue centre, Croc Talk, in 2002.
That challenge is to gain $4,000, as soon as possible, to cover the facility rent for January.
If he can get past this hump, he said he is confident that “there are lots of good things in the works” for Croc Talk.
But he had a hard time putting into words what might happen if he isn’t able to gain enough public support to keep his business afloat.
He began by explaining that there are two possible outcomes, both of which are equally undesirable.
“The animals would get euthanized. Believe me, I will fight that outcome tooth and nail,” said Illman.
“The other is that we would move out of B.C. I certainly don’t want to do that either. I’ve spent 21 years here in Kelowna.”
The founders of Croc Talk, Illman and his partner Brenda Bruce, along with a few sponsors, have been financially supporting the facility for the past nine years.
The facility promotes conservation efforts for crocodilians, African wild cats and tortoises through educational events called “Croc Talks.”
Illman and Bruce have applied to the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests for provincial zoo status. They are expecting that they will acquire this by the end of January, 2012; however, if they can’t afford this month’s rent then they will be evicted and the animals may suffer the consequence.
“We’re between a rock and a hard spot here waiting for our zoo status to come back from the Ministry of Environment. Complicated by that is that it was a tough year for tourism.”
To add to Croc Talk’s frustrations, a Ministry of Environment law change in April, 2010, made it illegal for Illman to showcase some of his animals until Croc Talk has received zoo status. The lack of ability to present all of his animals hasn’t helped the financial cause.
Illman said that Croc Talk has worked hard to abide by Ministry of Environment laws. He also explained that he has permits for all of his animals.
“We’ve always been legal, we’ve always been up front, we’ve always kept our noses clean and we’ve always been very open to the public and anybody that wants information about Croc Talk conservation.”
If Croc Talk achieves zoo status, Illman and Bruce will be eligible to apply for government grants that are available for facilities like theirs. They will then also be eligible to apply for nonprofit status, which will enable them to fundraise in the community and provide taxable receipts to donors.
According to Illman, other investors are ready and willing to jump on board as soon as Croc Talk earns zoo status as well.
Since Croc Talk is not currently a nonprofit organization, Illman said it has been tough to convince people that all the money donated is being used for the benefit of the animals.
“I’ve been getting some questions about what the guarantees are that the money goes to where I’m saying it will go and not into my pocket.
“I’m not going to Mexico; I haven’t been on a holiday in 20 years. Any income that comes in to Croc Talk, goes to Croc Talk. It costs me $8,000 a month to operate this facility.”
That money provides veterinarian costs, utilities, the building lease, insurance, food and dietitian needs for the animals.
Illman said the eventual goal of the facility is move out of east Kelowna and relocate near Highway 97, where he anticipates he will generate over 10 times the current number of visitors.
He said that achieving this goal will be much more realistic once the zoo status has been achieved and government grants become available.
This isn’t the first time that Croc Talk has had to turn to the public for assistance. Illman said that he had to ask for help last winter as well. He also mentioned that he hates having to do it.
“I’ve never been one to ask for help, but I’m no different than the SPCA. The SPCA asks for help every day, all year. I only ask for it in the winter time.
“The difference is, they are a nonprofit organization and they deal with fuzzy, warm, soft animals with big ears and fluffy tails. I deal with a crocodilian: Not exactly one of the most attractive animals.”
Illman is hoping that the community will share the love for a facility that he said has “always been there for the community.”
“It’s been a community program here. To keep it in the community, we need community support.”
To make a donation or for more information about Croc Talk, visit their website at www.croctalk.com.
Illman said the public can also contact him at 250-717-6060 for more information, or for other ways to offer support.