al oeming

Al Oeming died of complications after heart surgery. (Courtesy: Al Oeming Auctions)

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.

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."