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