LATE BREAKING NEWS — Unconfirmed reports just before press deadline Wednesday from a source close to the World Parrot Refuge suggest the facility's power was being shut off Wednesday due to a large, unpaid bill. The same source said the lack of power could lead to an immediate SPCA order to remove hundreds of birds.
"The whole thing has changed to the point... I'm not sure what I can tell you," said Horst Neumann, owner of the land the facility sits on and not the source of the information above. He said veterinarians and SPCA told him not to talk to the media and as of 1 p.m. Wednesday "there are no conclusions — it's a very fluid situation."
ORIGINAL STORY (filed before noon on Wednesday):
The owner of the World Parrot Refuge land in Coombs says they are coming through a tough adjustment since the death of his partner, refuge founder Wendy Huntbatch, in February.
Horst Neumann said there was infighting with some now-former staff and an outside group that he said has wanted to shut down the refuge for years, but he now has an experienced manager in place and they are working closely with supportive groups.
"We're so thankful for the energy and all the work of Anne McDonald and Greyhaven," he said of about 30 volunteers who showed up on Sunday, including experts and veterinarians from Vancouver to help assess and treat the birds and do "an amazing amount of clean-up."
Working with the BCSPCA, McDonald is a renowned exotic bird veterinarian at the Night Owl Bird Hospital in Vancouver and a director with the Greyhaven sanctuary.
Neumann said the volunteers helped secure a huge food donation from Hagen pet foods and donated $6,000 worth of food and supplies, on top of their own considerable efforts.
Neumann said another group had been on site to help, but he said he became suspicious of their behaviour and came across a letter online saying a member of the group has been trying to shut the World Parrot Refuge down for 10 years.
"We are monitoring the situation very closely and we are very hopeful," said BCSPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk.
"Our constables were there and identified some birds in distress. We are strongly encouraging them to take up the offers from other bird sanctuaries to ensure their distress is relieved," Chortyk said. They will continue to monitor the facility until "the situation is resolved."
Neumann said he's not interested in running the refuge and that after Huntbatch died he and his son had signed letters of resignation from the society's board, but it turned out society members are still legally responsible until they can be replaced at a general meeting.
Meanwhile Neumann said he's happy to have Stephanie Martin managing the place for now, describing her as "as close to Wendy and the birds as anyone — she's been there nine years and knows the birds by name."
Neumann said he is reluctant to speak to the media about the quickly changing situation, but he and Martin agreed that as a public organization they want to assure people they are working hard with organizations that can help and everyone has the bird's best interest in mind.
"There's so much misinformation out there," he said, adding concerned people should either leave it in the hands of the professionals and SPCA, or step up and offer to help.
"The people doing this stuff online who claim they care are actually hurting the birds. If you actually care, help make a difference," he said.
On the other hand, he said there is also "a lot of positive energy pouring in from all over, from people who would like to see this keep going."
"These birds come in here damaged like that," said Martin, answering claims that the birds are suffering from neglect.
The 25,000 sq.ft. facility takes in parrots from all over North America that can no longer be cared for by their owners and Martin said one of the reasons people send their birds there is their policy of not trying to re-adopt the birds back out, letting them live out their natural lives in the large free-flight cages with other birds.
"I'm a businessman," Neumann summed up, "and there are a lot of costs to keeping this place going, it's not just a hobby."
He said he's willing to be reasonable and work with the refuge on options, including having them pay rent, subdivide and purchase a portion of the 21-acre property, or move. "I'm just not willing to keep putting my own money into a bottomless pit."
He said it costs about $500,000 a year to run, of which $50,000 comes from their thrift shop, $100,000 comes through B.C. Lotto, $200,000 comes from visitor admissions and the rest comes from private and corporate donations.
He said if the facility is to remain open he wants to see it be more selective about accepting birds and he'd like it cleaned up as more of a self-sustaining tourist attraction.
"I'd like to see it run with no outside support. The people who want to see the facility continue to run need to make sure it is able to keep running," Neumann said, pointing out it clearly has some value as the largest facility of it's kind in North America.
"I'm consulting with people that can give the right input on going forward and we hope to have some kind of decision next week."