When Doug and I founded the Center in 1999, our hope was that it would be a hub of educational activity for years to come. The Center has grown beyond our wildest dreams and our vision has not only come to life, but two decades later has gathered an incredible dedicated extended family and a greater community sharing in the Center’s mission with us.
Wrangling the Center’s growth and evolution as a wildlife park has been a little like herding cats. From one sassy little caracal named Aretha Franklin to a collection of more than 80 animals of more than 20 species, our goals have remained the same–to offer our visitors the opportunity to engage with a broad variety of carnivores in a way that made them care and want to take action.
The Center was relocated to our current property over the winter of 2001-2002 and began with limited volunteers and interns, and our very first staff members! The intimacy of working shoulder to shoulder and eating sitting on the kitchen floor of the staff house together makes a bond that is not easily broken. Many of the those who began with us on this site are still involved today.
Our Visitor’s Center, built in 2010, has hosted a wide range of birthday parties, weddings, receptions, posh soirees and annual events. We have offered courses on wild felid husbandry and wolf and wolfdog hybrid management. We also offered educational seminars for interns and staff and tour guide training programs.
This year we printed photos of every animal that has lived at our park. In twenty years we have provided care for 46 lions, tigers and leopards. We have adored our more than 50 small cats from species drawn from across five continents, and nearly two dozen small carnivores including binturongs, large and small spotted genets, and kinkajous. Our canid pack has included 15 New Guinea singing dogs, four wolves, two dingoes and a coyote. We have witnessed the births of singing dogs, and cats small and large; some born to incoming animals and some planned births to help sustain these species. Seeing photos of all of these beloved animals at once has been a bit emotionally overwhelming. Many of these animals came to us late in life, so we only had them for a brief time. Some came to us young and strong as companions for animals we had or to give us a new species to share with visitors. A handful of very special animals were born here, some of which lived with us for their entire lives.
Our history includes some spectacular growth spurts, like in 2004 when we agreed to take in 14 big cats that shortly after arrival had 15 cubs. This Fall, the remaining 10 cubs born that year celebrated their 14th birthdays, and two of the lady lions who arrived in 2004 are still living at the park. In 2006, we took in several animals from a zoo that was closing after 50 years in business. The animals that came to us were mostly older, but extremely memorable, like Roy, a bobcat with impaired vision who had been caught as a young wild bobcat raiding a zoo’s aviary. In his late teens when he arrived, he lived into his mid-twenties, contentedly navigating his habitat by scent and sound.
Our interactiveness with our animals, understanding of their social structure and nuances, and attentive daily care lends itself to opportunities to document what we are learning. It also allows us to serve as a bridge when researchers and scientists want to use these relationships to gain more insight into animal behavior, intelligence, and the effects of illness or aging. Because the animals are acclimated to us being present, unless we are bringing lunch or a special treat to them, their behaviors remain consistent. They respond quickly and enthusiastically to operant conditioning training, which enables us to guide their behavior into performing certain tasks like getting on a scale or exploring a protected iPad.
When veterinary care for the animals requires that they have a procedure, we use the opportunity to collect samples for genetic documentation, or to donate removed tissue to appropriate research projects. Our animals have contributed to publications on the genetics of worldwide animal populations, wild felid reproduction, cystinuria, hybrid sterility, animal behavior, tick borne illness, tumors, and New Guinea singing dog parturition denning behavior, and more.
So many of our animals have lived to an advanced age, we are beginning to become experts in geriatric care for some of these species. The change of seasons is especially hard on them, and they have special needs to get them through the winter months. Our heated dens stuffed with extra bedding keep our cats snug and warm, but our more tropical animals have heated buildings to keep them warm and active. The binturong, genet, fennec fox, and lemur species all enjoy the warm spaces that allow them to sun in a window and snuggle in near the heater. Some of our animals change their diets substantially in the winter, requiring extra fat or vitamin supplements to keep them fueled in chilly weather.
As we embark on our year end campaign, our goal is to provide continued exemplary care to our 85 animals by raising $15,000 by December 31st, but we can’t do it without your help.
There are many ways to donate: you can mail a check payable to the Conservators Center by the return envelope provided, donate online or call us at (336) 421-0883. Donating in honor of or in memory of a loved one is another very special way that you can support us.
We cannot adequately express our gratitude for the two decades we have had with you. This community has experienced so much together – arrivals, births, losses, growth, pain, setbacks, successes, and most importantly, an intense and shared belief that these animals matter to the world and that it is our responsibility to care for and protect them. We could not have gotten this far without you, and we can’t wait to bring you with us as we continue to grow, teach, and learn.
Mindy Stinner, Founder and Executive Director