Ur­ban Sa­fari Res­cue Cen­tre

Asian Journal - - Food Corner - Ray Hud­son Ur­ban Sa­fari Res­cue Cen­tre is open ev­ery day ex­cept Tues­days. For more in­for­ma­tion go to www.ur­bansa­fari.ca

Just a few min­utes north of the US bor­der on High­way 15, is a large low build­ing with a jun­gle mo­tif painted on the front. The sign says it’s the Ur­ban Sa­fari Res­cue Cen­tre, but it’s much more than the name im­plies. It’s one of the most in­ter­est­ing at­trac­tions of­fered to vis­i­tors and res­i­dents of Sur­rey alike, yet it’s still work­ing hard to raise its pro­file. Be­hind the doors, is a sanc­tu­ary for res­cued ex­otic an­i­mals, an ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity that hosts over 500 school vis­its an­nu­ally, con­ducts out­reach to hos­pi­tals, Make a Wish foun­da­tion, Scouts, Guides and any­one in­ter­ested in learn­ing about the more ex­otic wildlife around us. It is also a cen­tre to for­mally in­struct peo­ple in the pro­fes­sion of Zookeep­ing, as well as in­tro­duce the sub­ject to thou­sands of chil­dren at their sum­mer and other sea­sonal camps. The Ur­ban Sa­fari Res­cue Cen­tre is an evo­lu­tion of a life’s work in the field by cre­ator and founder, Gary Oliver. “I’ve been deal­ing with an­i­mals since I was a kid,” he said, “vol­un­teer­ing in mu­se­ums in­clud­ing the Royal On­tario Mu­seum in Toronto and worked in sta­bles, do­ing any­thing I could, pet stores you name it. If it had an­i­mals in it, I was there. I even­tu­ally got into horses and ended up rid­ing with the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Horse Guard. At one point, I rode es­cort, right be­side the car­riage with the Queen, the Queen Mother and dig­ni­taries in an open car­riage.” From there he worked with the new Toronto Zoo, while it was set­ting up. “I was hired to ride around the zoo, res­cu­ing an­i­mals that were es­cap­ing from their new com­pounds. The ba­boons were es­pe­cially trou­ble­some be­cause they could jump the moats. I had to chase them back into their com­pound. I fol­lowed that with an Ara­bian horse farm, went to­tally broke, and that’s when I moved to the west coast where I worked as an artist and fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher for about twelve years, run­ning the big­gest arts stu­dios in BC.” Dur­ing this pe­riod Oliver got the idea of start­ing an an­i­mal agency for the film in­dus­try. “Some­one gave me the idea of us­ing my cat in some of the fash­ion shots.” said Oliver. “He ab­so­lutely loved hav­ing his photo taken. It be­came so popular that al­most ev­ery model wanted my cat in their shot, so I went look­ing for an agent for the cat. There were two an­i­mal agents in LA and one in New York, but noth­ing in Canada. So I opened up an an­i­mal agency in Van­cou­ver, a zoo for cinema, which I named the Cine­ma­zoo.” He ran the agency for twenty years in Van­cou­ver to north Sur­rey. In 2009, dra­matic rent in­creases put the op­er­a­tion in jeop­ardy and it moved to the build­ing that housed the de­funct Rep­tile Refuge, where they are now. “This new lo­ca­tion is far bet­ter for tourists,” said Oliver. “At the Whalley fa­cil­ity, we’d get two or three tours a month, but here on High­way 15, close to the bor­der, they’re com­ing in all the time.” The next crit­i­cal step in re­build­ing was to fo­cus more on the busi­ness side. “We re­al­ized that we needed more pro­fes­sional help. We got a proper ac­coun­tant and then Sharon Doucette, who had been a vol­un­teer, came on as the Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor. She knew about ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­ag­ing the books, and has been an in­cred­i­ble as­set to get­ting this com­pany to where it is now.” Doucette, a 25 year ca­reer photo jour­nal­ist (in­clud­ing The Now News­pa­per) met Gary when she was as­signed to do a story on the Cine­ma­zoo. In­ter­ested, she be­gan vol­un­teer­ing, and it grew from there. They for­mally re­vamped the Ur­ban Sa­fari Res­cue So­ci­ety and clar­i­fied its mission; to res­cue ex­otic an­i­mals sold through the pet trade, smug­gled into the coun­try or bred for do­mes­tic sale. “We of­fered a place for the an­i­mals when peo­ple re­al­ized they were in over their heads, and had to get rid of th­ese an­i­mals,” said Doucette. “The other part of our mission is to ed­u­cate,” said Oliver. “For years I’ve been in schools, com­mu­nity cen­tres, li­braries and so on, teach­ing peo­ple about an­i­mals, from in­sects right up to large an­i­mals. I’ve had large cats in the past in­clud­ing tigers, a black jaguar and a chee­tah. As a re­sult, I have a deep knowl­edge and we have a re­ally good r rep­u­ta­tion with many or­ga­ni­za­tions.” Last year they did a record year of 585 pre­sen­ta­tions (ob­vi­ously more than one a day), many of which were done on a fee ba­sis. ““It’s a ma­jor part of our rev­enue,” said DDpp Doucette. “But we do some spe­cific places for free as well. Last Satur­day at BBii BC Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, we par­tic­i­pated in the ‘Bald­ing for Dol­lars’ cam­paign. WWF We do Canuck Place, the Make a Wish Foun­da­tion, and in June we’ll be do­ing the Va­ri­ety Club’s Boat for Hope. We d don’t get any gov­ern­ment fund­ing. “I have so many sto­ries from work­ing with kids that’ll bring tears to your eyes when you see the joy and peace it brings them just to ex­pe­ri­ence some of our crea­tures,” said Oliver. “That alone makes it all worth­while.” They of­fer a Na­ture Club for kids aged six to twelve, a Ju­nior Zoo-Keep­ing course, quite a unique course for ages thir­teen to seven­teen. “We have an in­ten­sive adult ca­reer train­ing course in an­i­mal han­dling and Zookeep­ing,” said Oliver, “based on the in­ter­na­tional cur­ric­ula used by most zoos. We have a sum­mer camp, a full two months of sum­mer camp dates, and this spring we had both a Spring Break camp and a Strike Camp which was full to burst­ing.” We have a vol­un­teer pro­gram as well, where peo­ple who have an in­ter­est in an­i­mals can re­ceive train­ing. All of the peo­ple em­ployed here came up from our vol­un­teer pro­gram to start with. Asked to de­scribe a tour of the cen­tre, Oliver said, “We’ll start you with a tour of the bug lab and all along the tour we’ll tell you about the an­i­mals and the sto­ries that come with them. We’ll also ed­u­cate you about how they can be danger­ous and how they don’t make good pets. Also we talk about the dump­ing of an­i­mals in the en­vi­ron­ment and how it can re­sult in in­va­sive species get­ting into the en­vi­ron­ment and cre­at­ing a lot of dam­age to the lo­cal species, like the Amer­i­can bull­frogs destroying the lo­cal frog pop­u­la­tions around the Fraser Val­ley or pythons re­leased into in the ev­er­glades that are killing the al­li­ga­tors.”

Photo: Ray Hud­son

Gary Oliver and Sharon Doucette pause amongst one of their many col­lec­tions.

Pho­tos: Sub­mit­ted.

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