KELOWNA – You might say he’s caught between a hot rock and a hard place.
Doug Illman is the owner and operator of CrocTalk Conservation and Rescue, a reptile rehabilitation and education centre in Southeast Kelowna. With more than 50 animals including adult crocodiles, exotic cats, fish and birds, the centre functions as both a tourist draw and a repository for unwanted or uncared for reptiles from across the province.
Last week, after more than 20 years in operation, Fortis suspended service to the centre for nonpayment of thousands of dollars in electricity bills.
“Fortis ended up making the tough decision to cut our power off and I understand that decision,” he says. “They have a business to run too and other customers to look out for so I respect them for that.”
According to Illman, expenses for the centre are the same all year, approximately $8,000 per month, but with far fewer visitors during the winter months, they have fallen behind on their bills.
“It’s always been tough out here in Southeast Kelowna,” he says. “We’re so far out of the way.”
When power was shut off, Illman was forced to go to the public for help, something he says he does for only one reason.
“It’s about the animals,” he says. “Crowd funding is not something I’ve done before but we are stuck in a difficult situation.”
The current location on Stewart Road East was always intended as a temporary location. Although he says the animals’ care is never compromised, the property is too small for things like school or tour buses. He has been trying to find a new location for years but says without some outside support, that is not likely to happen any time soon.
“It’s too bad, “ he says. “There is nothing like this anywhere around here and with just a little help I know this business could be profitable.”
Despite the recent setbacks, Illman says he has no plans of throwing in the towel and earlier this week reached a deal with Fortis and the power has been restored.
“Here at the centre we teach kids never to give up so I certainly can’t,” he says.
Senior Vice President of Big White Ski Resort Michael J. Ballingall heard about Illman’s plight and donated two 7,000 watt generators that have been keeping the heat on and the water circulating.
Illman says generosity like this is fundamental to the success of any animal care centre.
“The only difference between us and the SPCA is that they can adopt their animals out and I can’t because they’re illegal,” he says. “We aren’t doing this to make a ton of money, we just aren’t willing to see animals killed just because they’re difficult to keep.”
CrocTalk gets approximately 7,000 visitors a year.
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