The Wild Life in N.C.: State Is Home to Many Animal Attractions
Want to Go?
What: Meet the Author
When: Tuesday, March 29,
Where: The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines
Reservations: (910) 692-3211
“Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my!”
Dorothy didn’t have to travel all the way to Oz to see lions or tigers. She could have followed the yellow brick road to North Carolina, one of the “Top 10 Animal Attraction States” in the country, where thousands of wild, exotic and critically endangered species make their home.
That is, of course, if she had Jennifer Bean Bower’s new book, “Animal Adventures in North Carolina,” to guide her.
On Tuesday, March 29, at 7 p.m. at The Country Bookshop in downtown Southern Pines, Bower will offer an armchair safari of some of the 70 locations, more than half less than a three-hour drive from Moore County, where visitors can interact with prehistoric-looking ostriches, wildebeests, water buffalo, giraffes, Watusi cattle, Binturongs, raptors, chimpanzees, lemurs, red wolves, and yes, even lions and tigers and bears.
Joining Bower will be Mindy Stinner, co-founder of Conservators’ Center in Mebane, with two of the Center’s rare and near threatened Geoffroy’s cats, 1-year-old Grace and Vitor.
“Grace usually hangs back from new people until she has decided they are safe,” Stinner says. On the other hand, “Vitor has never met a stranger. He usually jumps into a stranger’s lap, almost before they can sit down. He is full of energy and very bold. When he is taken out for a walk, it is not uncommon to see him straining against his harness to go challenge a tiger that looked at him the wrong way.”
“We’ve had animals at our author events before,” says Kimberly Daniels, manager of the 58-year-old bookshop, “like Woody the mule and Maggie the pack pony; Baby, the three-legged rescued poodle; and Buddy, the Jack Russell therapy dog. But hosting wild animals is a first for us! This is a great chance for adults and children to see these beautiful creatures up close and learn why it is important to protect threatened species and their habitats.”
In her book, Bower divides the state into three regions: mountains and coast, each with 16 sites, and piedmont with 38 locations where individuals and families can discover new species, observe how sick, injured, and orphaned animals are cared for, view domestic and wild animals’ natural behaviors, and learn about the importance of animals in the environment and how to champion the cause of animals.
The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, located near Manteo, is home to a population of rare red wolves which, in 1980, had been officially declared extinct in the wild. Today, through the efforts of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, more than 100 survive in northeastern N.C., the only wild red wolf mainland population site in the world.
Visitors to BirdBrain Ostrich Ranch in Sherrills Ford can see the largest of all birds, native to Africa, that have more in common with dinosaurs than other types of animals or birds. The Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, the state’s only drive-throughout animal park, features more than 750 animals from six continents. From a seat on a wagon pulled by draft horses, visitors can pet, feed or observe elands, the largest of the antelope species; wildebeests; Watusi cattle, the largest horned cattle in the world; and the critically endangered Southern white rhinoceros.
The Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville (Mecklenburg County) is dedicated to rehabilitating more than 700 injured and orphaned raptors each year.
“At no other facility in N.C. do visitors have an opportunity to see such a diverse and large collection of raptors,” Bower says.
Begara, the rescued leopard whose leg was amputated to save her life, calls Tiger World in Rockwell in Rowan County home, as do white Bengals and Siberian tigers, ligers (a hybrid cross between a tiger and a lion), baboons, monkeys, lions, jaguars, panthers and Syrian bears. The N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, the nation’s first state-supported zoo, is the largest walk-through natural-habitat zoo in the country. The Kitera Forest Chimpanzee Reserve there houses the largest troop at any U.S. zoo. Duke Lemur Center, in Durham, is home to the world’s largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar, the only place in the world where lemurs are found in the wild. Carolina Tiger Rescue in nearby Pittsboro houses seven species of animals, including several of the world’s most endangered.
One of the largest big cat populations (33 lions and tigers) in the U.S. live just 80 miles north of Southern Pines at Conservators’ Center in Mebane in Caswell County.
In 1999, Mindy Stinner and Doug Evans founded the nonprofit as a “home of last resort,” providing a haven for 100 “worst-case animals” — those with serious behavioral issues, who are very ill or at immediate risk of death, or are seized from owners who were responsible for animal abuse, neglect or cruelty.
“We accept and care for the animals that no one else wants,” Stinner says. “We specialize in happy endings.”
The population includes Aretha Franklin, a caracal (wildcat), the center’s first intake; Roy, a 24-year-old deaf bobcat with a cataract; and Tigra tiger, a retired Hollywood cat whose trainer hit her with a shovel. Tes ocelot lost her home to Hurricane Katrina.
Arthur, the white tiger, had been used as a photo booth prop by people who would park their car in a random parking lot and advertise a photo opportunity with a baby tiger.
“To keep Arthur calm, they just starved him,” says Julia Matson, director of fundraising and outreach. “He was 19 pounds when the USDA brought him to the center. He should have been 40.”
Kira lion, a yearling lioness, had become increasingly lame and aggressive because of a malformed hip and was scheduled for euthanasia. She has now blossomed into a friendly lion, and romps and plays with Arthur tiger.
Conservators’ Center receives no state or federal funding. It runs with the help of volunteers and student interns.
Ninety-nine percent of the 500 pounds of meat a day fed to the animals is donated by local farms and hunters. The center’s annual budget of just $120,000 “gets the animals fed and the best medical care possible, attention and enrichment.”
But that’s it,” Matson says. “It doesn’t pay for the cage expansion or rescue work. Our staff will go without pay before the animals have to do without.”
When the economy crashed last year, donations to Conservators’ Center went down 70 percent.
“I can’t fault people for making family and people a priority,” Matson admits, “but these guys have no other advocates for themselves. We’re responsible for telling their stories and caring for them. It’s a big responsibility and we exist because of volunteers and donors.
“Our incredible animals serve as the best possible ambassadors for their respective species and the need for comprehensive conservation efforts. The animals in our care contribute to the survival of their species because people who learn about them come to understand why it is important to protect them, and their habitats. Children and adults alike leave our site touched by the experience and with a better understanding of how we are all interconnected.”
For information about tours or making a tax-deductible donation to Conservators’ Center, call (336) 421-0883 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
For reservations to the Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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