These FAQs are designed to answer questions about the history and mission of our organization.

For questions related to tours or visiting the Conservators Center, please click here.
For questions related to the care of our animal residents, please click here.

What is the Conservators Center?
What is your mission?
How long has the Conservators Center been open?
Where does your funding come from?
Are you accredited by the AZA?
Who founded the Conservators Center?
Is the Conservators Center a wildlife sanctuary?
Where do the animals at the Conservators Center come from?
How many people does the Conservators Center employ?
As a nonprofit, are you considered public or private exotic animal owners?
Don’t these animals belong in the wild?
What is your opinion on people owning reptiles as pets?
What’s your organization’s involvement with the Feline Conservation Federation?
How much money does it cost to operate the Conservators Center?

Q: What is the Conservators Center?

A: The Conservators Center is a nonprofit conservancy in North Carolina that houses about 20 species of exotic animals. This includes more than 20 big cats (lions, leopards, and tigers). You can meet the animals on guided tours—which allow you incredible views from as close as 5 feet away—and learn about their personalities, the species they represent, and how they came to live at the conservancy. The Conservators Center supports wildlife conservation through education and raising public awareness of rare and endangered species.

Q: What is your mission?

A: Reconnecting people with wildlife

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.

Q: How long has the Conservators Center been open?

A: 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.

Q: Where does your funding come from?

A: The Conservators Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that receives no money from the government. The income we receive from educational programming, Lifetime Adoption, partnerships with local businesses, and donations are critical to being able to provide a high quality of care for our animals residents.

Q: Are you accredited by the AZA?

A: 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 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 smart population management decisions based on the needs of our facility and the species under discussion. Until we choose to apply for 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.

Q: Who founded the Conservators Center?

A: 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 they founded the Conservators Center together in 1999.

Q: Is the Conservators Center a wildlife sanctuary?

A: Although the Conservators Center is often referred to as a sanctuary by others, we self-identify as a conservancy. While we certainly acknowledge and support the excellent work done by facilities who choose to identify themselves as wildlife sanctuaries, we have no desire to adopt that descriptor for ourselves.

The word “sanctuary” is just that: a word. With regard to public safety and animal welfare, “sanctuary” means no more and no less than the words zoo, rescue, nature center, conservancy, park, safari, refuge, farm, or ranch. These descriptors are not indicative of quality, nor even of mission. If a facility exhibits animals to the public for compensation (e.g., money, prizes, stipends, products, or publicity that directly benefits that person’s business, including donations), they are required to comply with the same USDA APHIS standards—including random inspections—no matter what word they use to identify themselves.

“Wildlife sanctuary” is also a heavily contested descriptor amongst accrediting and governing entities with a variety of inconsistent definitions, none of which are accepted or acknowledged on the federal level, outside of one reference embedded in the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, a component of the Lacey Act, which outlines restrictions on interstate commercial activity involving big cats. This is not a “federal definition” of a wildlife sanctuary, but is instead a descriptor provided for the purposes of exempting certain facility types from certain provisions.

Exotic animal husbandry, individual animal rescue, and species conservation are complex topics, each with many challenges. As an organization, the Conservators Center believes that no one mission statement or business model provides all of the answers; it will take a variety of skills and perspectives collaborating together to solve the current problems in this industry, and the problems we will inevitably face in the future.

Q: Where do the animals at the Conservators Center come from?

A: 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.

Q: How many people does the Conservators Center employ?

A: The Conservators Center has a small staff of about 20 full-time and part-time employees. We depend heavily on the work of dedicated, frequent volunteers who serve our animals in all departments of the organization.

Q: As a nonprofit, are you considered public or private exotic animal owners?

A: 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, 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.

Q: Don’t these animals belong in the wild?

A: Unfortunately, “the wild” is disappearing. Where is “the wild”? Can you point to “the wild” on a map? Can you point to all-natural areas, untouched by human hands, where animals are truly safe from poaching? From habitat loss? From unstable governments and ineffective laws regarding their safety? Unfortunately, humans have eliminated much of the natural habitat that these creatures should call home, 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.

Q: What is your opinion on people owning reptiles as pets?

A: The Conservators Center specializes in the care of mammalian carnivores. As such, we are not entitled to make recommendations regarding the keeping of reptiles. However, we will always be avid supporters of legal, responsible, comprehensive care for all wildlife—both native and exotic.

Q: What’s your organization’s involvement with the Feline Conservation Federation?

A: The Conservators Center is not affiliated with the FCF. Our Executive Director, Mindy Stinner, is involved in that organization as an individual because she is an expert on exotic animal husbandry. Ms. Stinner would certainly prefer to see fewer exotics in the hands of inexperienced pet owners, but because her greatest concern is for the care and wellbeing of exotic animals, she firmly believes that anyone who wishes to legally and responsibly house an exotic feline should have access to accurate, thorough information about proper diet and nutrition, effective and safe habitat development, and appropriate enrichment.

Q: How much money does it cost to operate the Conservators Center?

A: The Conservators Center operates on a yearly budget of roughly $700,000. Our conservancy receives no government funding, and it is supported entirely by educational programs (tours and events) and donations. Caring for exotic animals, many with ongoing and ever-shifting medical needs, is certainly not an inexpensive endeavor. However, we maximize the effectiveness of every donation by ensuring an efficiency in our operation that minimizes spending.