Frequently Asked Questions - Conservators Center

Frequently Asked Questions

Thank you for your interest in the Conservators Center, its mission, and its residents. Please see the list of frequently asked questions below to address your question(s). If you do not see an answer to your question, please visit our Contact page where you can get in touch. We welcome the opportunity to connect with members of the public and discuss our work.

If you are interested in joining us for a tour, please visit the Plan Your Visit page for more information on each of our public and private tours, special events, and group offerings.

1What is the Conservators Center?
The Conservators Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, independent zoological park in North Carolina that houses more than 20 species of exotic animals. This includes about 20 big cats (lions, leopards, and tigers). The Conservators Center supports wildlife conservation through education and raising public awareness of rare and endangered species.
2What is your mission?
The Conservators Center reconnects people with wildlife by introducing visitors to rare, threatened, and endangered species—up close and personal. The conservancy’s animal residents serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts: You are more likely to become invested in these species after you meet them and learn about their inherent value. Looking a tiger in the eye, hearing lions call to one another, howling with wolves, and meeting a binturong for the first time will forever change your perspective. You protect what you know.
3How long has the Conservators Center been open?
The Center was founded in 1999 and moved to its current location in Caswell County in 2001. We opened to the public for tours in 2007 as a means to fulfill our educational mission, and as a way to fund continuing improvements for the high quality care we provide our residents. Guests visiting for educational programming are a critical source of support for our animal population.
4Is your park handicapped accessible?

We at Conservators Center welcome all guests, and while our guest relations building is ADA accessible, unfortunately our tour paths are not wheelchair-friendly. The following is provided to assist you in planning your tour and visit.

  • The guest relations area including patio, gift shop, and restrooms are ADA accessible.
  • A cement parking area is provided for the first two guest vehicles with handicap plates or placards.
  • Our outdoor tour paths are gravel and dirt, and are not recommended for wheelchair or stroller use.
  • Guests with mobility impairments may reserve in advance a seat on our standard electric golf carts.
  • Guests that need to use the golf cart to enjoy our tour may do so at no additional fee.
  • We ask that reservations be made at least 5 days in advance so we may ensure both cart and driver are available.
  • Please note the weight limit of our carts is 350 pounds for all guests and driver.
  • Guests joining the tour via our golf cart will have the option of using the rear-facing bariatric-sized bench seat, or single-person forward-facing seat.
  • Guests are asked to specify seating requirements when making the golf cart reservation – again at least 5 days before your scheduled tour.
  • Golf cart seating reservations may be made by contacting our gift shop staff at 336-421-0883.
  • We are not able to guarantee golf cart availability unless reserved in advance.
  • The golf cart cannot be exclusively reserved. Other members of the tour may reserve a seat as well.
  • Guests may not operate Conservators Center golf carts.
  • Only Conservators Center golf carts are permitted to operate on the premises. (No other personal motorized vehicles are permitted.)
  • Service animals are not permitted on tours, but may wait with an adult handler at the picnic shelter during your tour. Please notify Conservators Center in advance when bringing service animals to the site, either at the time of tour booking or by calling 336-421-0883 during regular office hours.
  • Companion and emotional support animals are not permitted on tour, nor on the property. Please note that under North Carolina statutes we do not permit any animal to be left in a vehicle on Conservators Center, Inc. property while the guest is on a tour.
5Where does your funding come from?
The Conservators Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The income we receive from educational programming, Lifetime Adoption, partnerships with local businesses, donations and occasional grants are critical to being able to provide a high quality of care for our animals residents.
6Are you an AZA accredited facility?
No. We respect the work performed by the AZA and believe they do an admirable job facilitating the mission and work of their institutions. They also work to manage the very limited gene pools of species under their Species Survival Plans® (SSPs). We work with facilities around the world to help manage a few of the thousands of species not included in the AZA’s breeding program, so while we are not officially affiliated with the AZA, we consider our work to be complementary, as we are helping to manage populations not currently in their purview.

Like any industry, the community of exotic animal owners is highly interconnected, so we exchange animals with AZA institutions, have staff who are members, and our leadership attend conferences and are members of AZA-sponsored working groups.

Also, AZA accreditation requires that many resources be allocated toward areas beyond just those that impact the safety of the public and the welfare of the animals. While the physical appearance of a facility is important—and the visitor experience is shaped by that appearance in many ways—facilities with more limited income must carefully choose how to allocate their resources. Most smaller zoos opt for simpler landscaping, more basic signs and graphics, and often offer equally effective exhibits that do not showcase multi-million-dollar rock backdrops and water features.

An accrediting organization is not the same as a regulatory agency. Accreditation from an organization requires that a facility meet certain standards, usually across several areas of the business. Their goal is generally to ensure the accredited business is engaged in standards of practices intended to provide for the sustainability and positive public perception of the business. Some accrediting organizations focus solely on encouraging best practices in public safety and animal welfare, others seek to ensure a certain level of organizational ethics, public appearance and positive experience for park visitors, and still others include a thorough assessment of the business model and financial concerns.

No matter what accreditation we may seek, the focus for us will always be on developing our business model to create a sustainable business, support best husbandry practices, and make smart population management decisions based on the needs of our facility and the species under discussion. Until we choose to apply for any accreditation, we will continue to meet (and often exceed) the standards put in place by the USDA for all facilities open to the public that house exotics, regardless of accreditation.

7Who founded the Conservators Center?
The Conservators Center was founded by two avid wildlife specialists, Mindy Stinner and Douglas Evans. Mindy and Doug have decades of experience with captive carnivore management and founded the Conservators Center together in 1999.
8Where do the animals at the Conservators Center come from?
Our animals come to us from a variety of situations. Many were very loved and well cared for at their previous homes, but simply needed a different living situation; some were retired to us from other reputable zoological programs; and a handful of our smaller cats were owned by individuals who entrusted us with their care when their circumstances changed. Additionally, some of our much older animal residents came to us from dire negligent circumstances, or as an alternative to euthanasia. Much as we are proud that we have, in the past, served as a home of last resort for animals that required emergency placement, we are so grateful that the need for emergency placement has greatly diminished in recent years.
9How many people does the Conservators Center employ?
The Conservators Center has a small staff of about 15 full-time and part-time employees. We depend heavily on the work of our dedicated volunteer corps who help provide for our animals by working in all departments of the organization.
10As a nonprofit, are you considered public or private exotic animal owners?
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are an incorporated entity that maintains ownership of our property and our animal residents. We receive no public (taxpayer) funding for operational expenses, and are—legally speaking—the private owners of the animals in our care.

Even if an organization does receive a portion of its income through taxpayer support, they are still considered private owners if they maintain ownership of their animals, rather than the government entity that is providing the funding.

There are many areas where complex arrangements like public-private zoo partnerships and loan or lease arrangements (very common and accepted practices across the entire scope of the managed wildlife community) with specific animals for breeding, education, companionship, etc., complicate the matter of which animals are owned “privately” and which are owned “publicly.” In these types of instances, careful analysis of the nature of the entity owning the animal and composition of an entire animal collection would be required to ascertain the type of ownership under which each animal falls.

11Don’t these animals belong in the wild?

Unfortunately, “the wild” is disappearing with increasing rapidity. Humans have eliminated much of the natural habitat that these creatures should call home by reallocating the use of the land for farming, ranching, and other activities, and there have been precious few successful wildlife reintroduction programs. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that humans can, we hope, make the wild a safe place for these species again. If that reality comes to pass, the Conservators Center will be one participant in what will hopefully be a large collaborative network of organizations supporting strong, healthy captive genetics. But until then, it is critical that we maintain a healthy, carefully managed population of these species in captivity, so that, when (and if) the time is right, we have individuals representing a variety of different species from separate, coordinated gene pools to reintroduce to protected natural habitats. Should that reality never come to pass, then captive managed populations will ensure we have these species into the future, even if we relentlessly destroy their natural habitats.

At the Conservators Center, we unapologetically believe that animals being cared for appropriately in captivity is infinitely better than losing entire species to extinction.