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Urban Safari Rescue Society re-opening delayed ‘many, many months’ after fire

Jan. 28 fire killed 60 animals; 15 more later died from smoke inhalation
Urban Safari Rescue Society is re-building its turtle pond, among other projects underway after a fire damaged much of the building and killed more than 60 animals last January. (Urban Safari Rescue Society photo)

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride” at South Surrey’s Urban Safari Rescue Society as the team works to rebuild the space following a fire earlier this year that killed many of its animals and damaged a large portion of the building.

The exotic-animal rescue centre, at 1395 176 St., shut down all operations following the Jan. 28 fire that killed about 60 mammals, frogs, snakes and fish. But slowly, the centre is being rebuilt, with a new turtle pond under construction, a return to school and daycare presentations at the end of March and other projects underway.

One of the most stressful parts of the ordeal, said executive director Sharon Doucette, is waiting for a permit from the City of Surrey which is “delaying the whole process by months, many months.”

“I was hoping that we would be able open again in September, but it doesn’t look like it. It looks like we will be lucky if we can open some time in November,” Doucette added.

RELATED: Approximately 60 animals killed in South Surrey fire, including sugar gliders, reptiles

Building the new turtle pond has been keeping everyone busy, after staff discovered that the old pond was leaking.

The new one will be getting a bog filter, which “will feature native plants (and) the water from the turtle pond will cycle through that area, which is separate from the turtle pond itself,” Doucette explained.

“The plants will suck up the nutrients and clean the water, and the clean water will flow back into the turtle pond itself.

“So in theory, the water will always be clean and take care of the algae, which is just an eye-sore.”

The front room of Urban Safari’s building was badly damaged by the fire and needs to be completely renovated once the organization gets approval. As that part of the building was where the majority of operations took place and all the reptiles lived, temporary habitats had to be found for the surviving animals.

“We fostered some out and we moved to the back end of the building and have refurbished some areas, so the animals have proper heat and things they need for a proper habitat to keep them healthy and safe. Some of them are in smaller enclosures than what they’re used to, but it’s temporary,” Doucette said.

“We were hoping it would be more temporary than it’s turning out to be.”

Immediately after the blaze, prioritizing the surviving animals’ health was paramount, the executive director added.

“The animals that were in that room were all affected by smoke inhalation to some degree or another so we had to make sure that they were healthy and recovered and receive the vet care that they needed so we paused everything until we got a clean bill of health from vets and could see that their stress levels were gone and they were back to normal behaviour.”

In addition to the 60 animals that died during the fire, another 15 passed afterward, due to the black smoke that coated the entire front room.

“It’s all a very traumatic and difficult situation,” an emotional Doucette shared.

Urban Safari is now doing a reduced number of presentations for kids, but Doucette says that it has been good for the animals to be able to leave their smaller homes.

“It’s also good stimulation for them because you can imagine any animal that’s stuck in a cage for its entire life is going to atrophy.”

As only a portion of renovations needed are covered by insurance, Urban Safari Rescue Society is raising money through a GoFundMe.

“We are very, very thankful for the support we have received from the public, from all over the Lower Mainland. We’ve had people mailing us donation cheques from Coquitlam, North Vancouver and offering to donate (items) and just words of support. It’s really made a huge difference,” Doucette said.


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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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