Edmonton conservationist Al Oeming dies at age 88 – Edmonton

EDMONTON – Edmonton conservationist Al Oeming has died of complications after heart surgery.

Oeming’s son, Todd, confirms his father died in hospital earlier this week.

Oeming, 88, was well-known in the province for his Alberta Game Farm, later known as Polar Park, 25 kilometres east of Edmonton.

He opened the massive 500-hectare facility in 1958 and closed it in 1998 after admitting that animal-rights activists were becoming increasingly successful at dissuading people from going to zoos.

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In the early 1970s, the game park was home to about 800 species and 3,000 animals and drew thousands of visitors a day.

By the time it closed, amid criticism from groups such as Zoocheck Canada, there were just 500 animals and maybe 200 visitors in a weekend.

“No regrets, but I wouldn’t do it again,” Oeming said at the time. “It’s the colossal costs. You’re also beset with much tougher regulations.”

Oeming was a Second World War veteran and a boxer, held a PhD and spent decades touring elementary schools across Canada with his cheetah named Tawana, presenting award-winning nature films and promoting conservation.

At the height of his fame, he was the subject of a TV series called “Al Oeming — Man of the North,” co-hosted by actor Leslie Nielsen.

After closing his exotic animal park, Oeming turned his attention to collecting and auctioning horse-drawn carriages and sleighs.

“His express wishes were that there would be no funeral,” said Todd Oeming.

“He wanted to have a cremation done and he wanted his ashes placed in a certain portion of our land known as our Spruce Box in order that his spirit can go on (amid) the continued growth of the trees.”

With files from CHED