Things are getting wild in North Carolina. Tucked away on a back country road near Mebane, NC rests the Conservators Center, a refuge for various wild animals that have been dealt a bad hand in life. The Center takes in animals that have been mistreated, kept as pets and then disregarded, and abandoned. Currently they have nineteen different species including lions, tigers, and wolves. They have 33 big cats, one of the largest populations in the United States. This is not a zoo. It’s a home for these otherwise forgotten animals. Their stories are heartbreaking, but their recoveries are inspirational.
The Conservators’ Center has been forced to expand very quickly to meet the needs of the animals that have come to them. In 2004 the center took in 3 big cats and agreed to temporarily hold 14 others, the plan fell through and they found themselves stuck with all of them. Then they learned quite a few were pregnant. In the end they found themselves with 33 lions and tigers. They didn’t turn their backs on them, they got creative and opened to the public. They never intended to do public tours, but have found it necessary to raise the funds that are required to maintain the animals.
It is truly a hidden gem. The thousands of people that flock to the Tanger Outlets in Mebane would never know these caged predators are lurking just beyond the trees off route 119. If you’re lucky enough to know about the Conservators’ Center, you have to be even luckier to actually find it.
It took us about 40 minutes to reach the Conservators’ Center from Danville, VA. After a few turns onto country roads we came upon the wooden sign that marked our destination. A slow drive up the muddy lane had me questioning if we were in the right place. We pulled up to a picnic shelter with a small shed and a port-a-potty. A group of people were clustered there looking a bit unsure of themselves. The roar of the lions echoed even inside the car. The first thing we did was sign a waiver stating that we were aware that we may find ourselves in a dangerous situation. I have to tell you it was a little creepy to sign this with that roaring going on in the background.
The Center offers several different types of tours. All tours are by reservation only, and the number of participants is kept very small. We opted for the Twilight tour. It is only offered every once in a while. It’s a chance to see the nocturnal animals, and the big cats and wolves when they are most active. Believe me they were active! This was one of the most amazing things I have experienced in my life.
We started with the smaller animals. I was surprised by how interesting the Bintarongs were. They are found in Southeast Asia, where they play an important role in maintaining the rain forest canopy.
The Jungle Cats, Sahara and Little One, were brought together for breeding purposes. The problem? Sahara couldn’t stand him. The solution? There is a brand of Target perfume that drives the big cats crazy, so they doused Little One in it and Sahara decided he might be ok after all. Now they get along just fine.
As darkness began to fall we met the wolf pack. Amadeus felt the need to show his dominance right away. But we learned that the only female of the pack, Hopa, is really the boss. She’s just knows that it’s easier to let Amadeus do all the talking.
Hopa and Amadeus are actually brother and sister that were separated as pups. You can read all about her long journey back to him at the Conservators’ Center website, but what I thought was most adorable was that on her first night next to him, big bad Amadeus dug a hole under the fence and shoved all his toys and stuffed animals over to his sister. Insert, awwww here. For me, I think the wolves may have been the most amazing part of the tour. They were so spiritual and majestic. Their howling was incredible. I didn’t get it on video, I just stood in amazement and listened.
As it began to get very dark we moved to the big cat area. We stood on a path between two lion prides and the earth shook as they called back and forth to each other. Something you don’t get to hear much of on the daylight tours. Then we got to walk around and meet them up close. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures because it was getting so dark, but is was really fantastic.
One thing I didn’t realize about getting close to these big cats is that they like spraying on you. You had to constantly be on guard if they put their backside up to the fence and lifted their tails. You have about three seconds to move to the side when that happens because you are going to get peed on. They have a 12-15 foot range, so unless you move sideways fast enough. You will not escape. Thankfully, I’m pretty swifty when I need to be.
This is Arthur Tiger. He has a Facebook page. Seriously, look him up! He came to the center as a baby. He was used as a photo booth tiger (like those places at the beach where you can get your picture taken holding a baby tiger.) I didn’t realize this, but to be used in that way they have to be kept under a certain weight. Arthur was fed only gruel so he wouldn’t grow. He was kept so hungry that he would focus only on the bottle of food and would hold still for pictures. Thankfully, he was taken away and placed at the center where he has lived a happy, healthy life.
If you’re looking for an interesting date idea, a place to take the family, or just and educational adventure The Conservators’ Center is an amazing experience. Money for the tickets is used to keep the center running. It survives on these tours and generous donations. Area farmers, hunters, and even Walmarts donate unused meat to feed the animals. You can sponsor an animal and even donate needed materials to the center. I highly recommend you check it out the next time you find yourself feeling the need to get a little wild.