Conservators' Center, Mebane NC
A few miles north of Mebane, in the heart of North Carolina, is an animal rescue center. They specialize in Big Cats. We're not talking about a 20-lb. feline domesticus named Fluffy. We're talking lions. Leopards. Tigers. Not that they're picky about what they rescue. They've got Singing Dogs and a lemur, too.
Tours are limited in size and scheduled in advance -- walk-ins are not allowed. The tour guides are the volunteers and workers who tend the critters when not escorting humans. They know the animals as individuals and care deeply. Each cat or dog or what-is-that-thing has its own story, as they come to the Center from a variety of backgrounds. Some were treated abusively. Some were education animals who outgrew their role (cubs are cute but they don't stay that way long). Others were perfectly happy and healthy, but their people could no longer care for them. And some just came as part of a package deal. (I'll let your tour guide tell you about the red foxes.)
Not all the animals can be seen at all times. Several sleep during the day. Others seek shelter or shade. The Center offers twilight tours as well as daytime.
We started with bobcats, native to North Carolina. The big male, named Bobby, eyed up the tour group and yawned. I guess none of us was "acting like food," a concept the tour guide had explained. The smaller female with him was more energetic but harder to see as she paced along the far side of the enclosure. Her fur coloring matched the dirt and vegetation.
Three red foxes could be seen only by the tips of their noses, which poked out from the wooden shelf they were relaxing on.
The Conservators' Center is known (among those who have to know) for its biturongs. These are Asian arboreal (tree-climbing) animals. There was something about how they are the only animals that eat the seeds of some important plant, which breaks down the seed casing so the seed can germinate. I had never seen biturongs before. Next time, I'll stare less and pay more attention so I can update this portion of the hub!
And there was ... wait, what are a couple of lemurs doing in a big cat sanctuary? Shouldn't they be down the road, at the Duke University Lemur Center? "We weren't looking for lemurs. We had an enclosure available when it was needed. Duke's been very helpful. Getting to know the lemurs has been ... educational." Well, okay then!
Along the way we encountered a jungle cat, looking like an overgrown house cat, and several servals. Grey wolves, which can be almost impossible to see in the wild, lounged in the shade. A New Guinea Singing Dog was sunning herself, silently. Leopards sprawled in the grass. The hazard of taking this tour on a hot afternoon -- the animals were smart enough to be keeping cool.
Finally, the really big cats. Lions. There are quite a few lions. Some are curious, and appear friendly. The Center was asked, in 2004, to temporarily house a number of big cats. The new facility never materialized and (oops!) the female lions were already pregnant. They have formed into prides and live in several enclosures. Our multi-lingual tour guide roared at them a couple times, which started three groups of lions roaring at each other. I don't know what the lion-speak meant to the lions, but it certainly impressed the humans.
Visitors have found a favorite in the white tiger, Arthur. He came to the Center underweight for his age. You wouldn't know it to look at him now. He sat atop a wooden platform in his enclosure, owner of his surroundings, making sure all was right with his world. As official spokestiger for the Center, Arthur has his own Facebook page.
The Conservators' Center is quite definite that it doesn't want to take advantage of any of its animals. But, needing cash to feed and house all the big cats, the Center opened to the public in 2004. They offer a variety of tours, from fairly plain meet-the-animals to feeding tours and twilight tours. Private groups can get their own tour, and photographers who want that special "tiger in your face" shot can make arrangements too.
Mebane, North Carolina is about halfway between Durham and Greensboro on interstate 40/85. The Conservators' Center asks that you communicate with them by email and schedule your tour through their website: www.conservatorscenter.org
Another North Carolina rescue site that specializes in tigers
- Carolina Tiger Rescue | Protecting Wild Cats
Down the road a bit, in Pittsboro NC.