Wild at Heart: Local Photographers Tour The Conservators' Center
When you're offered an opportunity to "shoot" big cats up-close and personal, you go for it. With cameras and other photographic equipment in hand, members of the Sandhills Photography Club enjoyed this unique experience during a recent outing at the Conservators' Center in Mebane.
This nonprofit sanctuary and conservation breeding facility, which includes a large collection of wild and endangered animals, not only offered a perfect environment for photographing amazing animals, but also presented a chance to learn about exotic species and understand their personalities and behaviors, as well as appreciate their beauty.
The Conservators' Center, which was founded by Douglas Evans and Mindy Stinner in 1999, was opened to the public in 2007 with a three-fold mission: conservation, education, and sanctuary. Through a responsible system of breeding, and by educating professionals and the public about the species and their care, the center provides information that contributes to the survival of the species and implements plans to rescue and place animals in need so that abused and neglected animals receive the right care they deserve for an improved life.
Since the center accepts sick animals, those with behavior problems, and some from negligent owners, they are committed to providing them with a permanent home unless they find a better place for them. Therefore, selected species whose survival is threatened by loss of habitat, disease, or irresponsible hunting are lovingly cared for and protected by Stinner and Evans and their staff, whose devotion to the animals was contagious.
It was clear during the photographers' tour that this center is not a zoo but a special haven for threatened and endangered carnivores where they can be at peace. Cages and safety barriers ensure the safety of both animals and visitors.
As the photographers visited the small and large animal areas, they were introduced to the animals at close range. From friendly and curious big cats with lion growls and tiger chuffles to wolf howls, smaller serval hisses, and New Guinea singing dogs, the power of these animals' reactions to visitors could be felt.
The staff's total commitment to the animals' welfare and their love and care for every animal was reflected in the fact that each animal had a name and would respond to the voice and actions of caretakers.
Cameras clicked as the animals were observed in their respective habitats. Some animals were more cooperatively photogenic, verbose, or entertaining than others (some nocturnal species chose to remain sheltered and slept through it all), but each species had an interesting and magnetic charm. Despite varying degrees of beauty and unique physical features, each animal was attractive, easily lovable, and deserving of watchful eyes and photo opportunities.
Lesser known species such as binturongs, which were given bananas, the servals that "hissed" to communicate, caracals with their unique ears, and the friendly New Guinea singing dogs, as well as other small cats, plus the lemur that was fed fruits, were also photographed.
In the large animal area, the wolves were shedding their winter coats, while the lions, although stretched out resting in the afternoon sun, were quite aware of the photographers' every move. One highlight of the visit was meeting the tigers, especially one pair that will soon be moved to the Baghdad Zoo. They loved the water tub and being cooled by water from hoses while they tussled and played together.
Watching other tigers being fed their chicken dinners offered great photo ops while photographers enjoyed and observed just how these animals live individually and cooperatively.
Although words are inadequate to describe the emotional impact of the photographers' outstanding tour of the Conservators' Center, the special photos which captured those marvelous "moments in time" with the majestic Big Cats and smaller animal species, are tangible souvenirs of this rewarding experience. These treasured pictures of awesome physical beauty will furthermore re-invoke in the photographers all that they learned about the species and the heartfelt inner personalities of the animals, as well as the deep love and respect given to them by their caretakers.
Carole Gale is a member of the Sandhills Photography Club.
More like this story