Landlord tells owner his 300 exotic charges must be out by Friday

Dec 28, 2009

I will contact Gary Oliver of Cinemazoo to see if and how SALI and our community can help the animals at his exotic rescue sanctuary. I have never visited the society, so am not familiar with the location or mission. A few comments on the Province web site have a negative tone towards the location and landlord.

We will keep you posted.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst, The Province

Surrey tropical animal collection faces wintery eviction

By Andy Ivens, The Province

For 22 years, Gary Oliver has made saving exotic animals and educating children about them his life’s work. But it all could come to a horrible end this week if he can’t find a way to stave off Cinemazoo’s eviction from its North Surrey location.

“It’s a total shock,” Oliver told The Province on Sunday. “What do you do with 300 animals in the middle of winter?” The collection is also used in the local film industry.

Oliver said this past Dec. 1 was the first time he has been unable to pay his $6,000-a-month rent. His landlord told him last week he has to be out by Monday.

“Moving them is going to be risky enough just because it’s cold and they’re all tropical animals,” said Oliver, 63, who lives in a room in the back of the building in the 13500-block of King George Highway.

“Some of them were rescued from rescue places that couldn’t keep them anymore.”

Oliver has been unable to find a new home for his exotic menagerie and the high rent in the desirable commercial property he currently occupies makes it obvious he has to move – but he has no idea where.

“To be honest with you I don’t know what’s going to happen to the animals,” he sighed.

“We’ve been trying to find a place to move to and nobody’s available around Christmas. I know there’s way cheaper places than this because we’re paying premium rent for 4,000 square feet,” he said.

In the past, Cinemazoo has helped to support a related venture Oliver operates – Urban Safari Rescue Society. Cinemazoo does not charge admission – it’s all funded by donations. Through the society Oliver makes his “primary income,” he said, by giving educational presentations to up to 45,000 people a year, mainly school-aged children.

“Everything from pre-schools to prisons and hospitals to senior homes,” he said describing his patrons.

The animals he shows include exotic birds, reptiles and insects.

“I’ve got an aligator snapping turtle that’s over 100 years old,” said Oliver.

His other prized creatures include a Mexican red-knee tarantula, a blue-tounged skink and various parrots, one of which recently required three separate operations that have cost him dearly.

“We’re the only organization with animals that has ever been allowed into Children’s Hospital cancer clinic,” said Oliver.

He also recently put on his show for a dying child who made her request through the Make a Wish Foundation, he said.

“She passed away,” Oliver said solemnly. “Her mom gave me the most heart-warming letter. I read it once and I don’t think I can read it again.” Oliver said.

“I want to do this for the kids. I want to make it an education for them and make adults aware of what’s going on with these animals in the wild.”

Selling a few of them to save the rest is not an option because it’s illegal to trade in exotic animals, he said.

“I’m worried. I haven’t slept for days,” he added.

“I’m not sure what we’re going to do. Hopefully we can save them all.”

He can’t imagine the landlord would simply let all the animals starve to death behind locked doors.

“If they locked the doors, the SPCA would want to come and take the animals, but they would probably end up having to euthanize most of them,” said Oliver.

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