The final chapter of Kelowna’s ill-fated exotic animal refuge has been written.
Doug Illman, the former owner of CrocTalk, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of unlawful posession of live wild life and two counts of violating the provincial Wildlife Act. For that he was fined $2,500 and prohibited for 10-years from working with controlled alien species, except through a company or organization that is certified through the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Illman’s partner Brenda Bruce also faced a series of charges, but they were stayed this week.
“I’m not talking about any charges but I want to say that I’m satisfied his chapter is over and I’m very grateful to our Kelowna community and all of our supporters over the years local and international,” said Illman, Friday.
Illman and Bruce closed down the exotic animal refuge in 2015, after years of struggling to find appropriate shelter for the creatures CrocTalk housed and convincing varying levels of government to grant licences so they could operate as a zoo.
And, although the facility was eventually bogged down by controversy, the future once looked bright.
Illman opened the facility in 2002, with the intention to promote conservation efforts for crocodilians, African wild cats and tortoises through educational events called “Croc Talks.”
From its inception it proved popular with visitors, but financially and legally it was less loveable. As Illman said himself on a number of occasions, the bills kept rolling in while the dollars raised never matched.
Things kept getting worse, and by 2012 the operation looked completely untenable.
Looking at a bill of $4,000 in 2012, Illman went so far as to say he’d consider putting his creatures down if he didn’t raise funds, prompting some questions about the legitimacy of the business.
“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,” Illman told a Capital News reporter at the time.
“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.
Fundraising efforts saved the day, but not for long.
By the start of 2015 the east Kelowna facility was in dire straights, having lost its business licence with the city and several of its creatures to conservation officers. Illman was even being evicted.
By summer of that same year it was shutting its doors and shipping animals off to other refuges across the country.
Illman has maintained that he opened the facility with the best of intentions, and he never got a break.