A female lion snoozes with the tour that to walk by her enclosure at the pet Park in ~ the Conservator"s center in Caswell County.

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On a guided tourism at the pet Park at the Conservator"s Center, a volunteer overview teaches a group of visitors around the leopard in former of them.
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Tours at the Conservator"s facility happen top top the weekends, as soon as staff and also volunteers take teams of about ten visitors with the park.
~ above a misty Saturday morning exterior of Burlington, a tiny tour team walks down a gravel pathway v the exotic pet enclosures at the animal Park at the Conservator’s Center, a non-profit zoo.

Between two lion enclosures, the tour overview yells a deafening guttural sound and the lions sign up with in quickly after. It’s called "oofing" and also it"s exactly how lions check in through each other.

phibìc Carolina is just one of only 4 states in the nation that has no state-wide legislations on personal ownership that exotic animals. Instead, individual counties room left to manage lions, pythons, or every little thing exotic animal someone might want come own.


And while several of those counties have placed constraints on animal ownership, others have no laws at all.

"The opportunity is there for the property of pretty lot anything," states Tara Harrison, an assistant professor and veterinarian v the NC State college of veterinary Medicine.

Harrison says that she does not know of everyone in the state through a big cat together a pet, but she can"t it is in certain. She regularly treats smaller sized exotic animals, like servals, a type of wild cat indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa.

"And they obtain it because it"s pretty, the looks cool," Harrison explains. "And they don"t know exactly how to take care of it. So we have seen part instances wherein these pets are fed an inappropriate diet, and then castle have poor bone quality and also or fractures. Or they"re not vaccinated properly. So climate they get sick, and also they need to be put to sleep."

Harrison also works with personal zoos – both for-profit and non-profit. She claims it"s complicated to recognize which is much better for the welfare of animals.

In Caswell County, whereby the Conservator"s center is located, the exotic animal ordinance boundaries ownership only to those who have the right to properly restrain their animal with an enclosure or leash and also muzzle.

The center opened to the general public in 2007, after taking in a number of huge cats indigenous a shuttered zoo in Ohio 3 years earlier. They are a 501(c)(3) non-profit through a budget that comes mainly from donations and also tour ticket sales. Around 20 big cats live there, together with 20 other types of pets including servals, fennec foxes, lemurs, binturongs, bobcats and also wolves.


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Credit Josie Taris / silverlakestyle.com
Mindy Stinner is the executive, management director and also co-founder the the animal Park at the Conservator's Center. She spent years volunteering in ~ a similar private zoo in north Carolina prior to she opened her own location in 2004.
“People need to recognize why these pets are important,” claims Mindy Stinner, the Conservator’s facility executive director and also co-founder. “It"s no just about "I have actually a cool collection." It"s not just around the ego of one individual. It"s no just about maintaining them because that our pleasure. I feel choose they should serve a greater purpose.”

Visitors can only walk with the grounds and also see the pets on the weekend, when staff and volunteers command guided tours. Animals land in ~ the Conservator’s center after coming from other zoos as a donation or rescue, and also sometimes they room donated by individual owners who deserve to no much longer take ideal care of your animal.

“In each case, for every one of those things, none of the pets were ever abandoned, or ever before left hanging - these animals were no going to be placed down,” states Stinner. “They were human being looking because that a placement, the right place for that pet to live out its life.”

The decision not to breed the huge cats in ~ the Conservator’s center is mainly financial. The park sit on ten emerged acres that a 45-acre property. Through such small space, breeding large cats would certainly be impractical. But they carry out breed some of their smaller, underrepresented animals as component of a wider conservation effort.

A few hundred mile away, phibìc of Charlotte in Iredell County, is Zootastic Park. They are one of the state’s largest, private, for-profit zoos. They operate on around 200 acres of land and also have hundreds of animals.

At the entrance of the zoo is a massive barn with a “Zootastic Park” sign hanging end the doorway and billboards for neighborhood businesses on the walls. After going with a gift shop, visitors deserve to walk about the park in ~ will. Interspersed in between the large cat enclosures are a carousel, picnic area and petting zoos.

Scottie Brown owns the place. He is a general contractor by trade, but he’s owned zebra and also elk for most of his life. Brown chose to open up Zootastic because he want to increase his collection.

“I wanted a giraffe,” that says. “And to buy a giraffe because that fifty-thousand bucks to sit in her backyard and look in ~ it, you acquired to it is in rich and also I no rich.”


Apart from ticket sales, Zootastic funds its business by reproduction some of your animals. Periodically they market the newborns, various other times they include the young in their pet encounter package. Guests deserve to pay for much more intimate, interaction encounters with pets like lemurs, kangaroos, or big-cat cubs.

The United claims Department of farming allows because that public taking care of of cubs, yet only for the few weeks as soon as a cub is large enough to be away from its mommy but tiny enough the it can’t seriously damaged someone.

A patent from the USDA is compelled to trade or exhibit exotic animals. Both Zootastic and the Conservators center are topic to USDA regulation. In the exotic animal community, the USDA serves together a kind of entry-level accreditation to operate a zoo. That sets standards choose the dimension of the enclosure, veterinarian care, and straightforward animal welfare and also public safety.

Stinner respects the USDA’s duty in keeping standards, however thinks the organization could be too huge for its own good.

“The standards are solid, the ideas are solid, the implementation is wherein the difficulty always occurs,” she says. “And it"s a challenge on both sides, it"s tough for us occasionally to understand what they"re feather for. It"s tough sometimes for them to it is in consistent and also how lock enforce it.”

According come USDA records, the pet Park in ~ the Conservator’s Center, i beg your pardon until newly was known only together the Conservator’s Center, has actually not had any type of recent citations.

Brown, with Zootastic, says USDA assessors are tough, yet fair.USDA records show due to the fact that 2014 they’ve had actually a few citations ranging from torn feed bags come a bloody tiger tail. All were repair by the follow-up inspections.

In heat with current moves relaxing regulation on property of exotic animals, the Trump management is considering having USDA inspections occur only every 3 years rather of annually. Brown claims that is a risk to his business and also to various other private zoos.

“We should do that every year,” that says. “It"s to defend us all.”

Both owners think that the state of north Carolina should more regulate property of exotic animals.

Earlier this year, two state to represent from Iredell County introduced a invoice to limit exotic animal ownership come USDA licensed facilities, but it stalled in the Senate.

Versions that a regulatory bill are available up every few years, periodically after a tragedy. That’s what taken place in 2018, once a lion eliminated an intern at the Conservator’s Center.

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None that the bills ever before received a vote in the basic Assembly.


Josie Taris left her home in Fayetteville in 2014 to examine journalism in ~ Northwestern University. There, she took a course called Journalism the Empathy and found her passion in audio storytelling. She hopes every story she produces obstacles the audience"s preconceptions the the world. ~ spending the summer of 2018 working in communications for a Chicago nonprofit, she determined to come house to work-related for the station she prospered up listening to. When she"s no working, Josie is likely rooting for the Chicago Cubs or petting every dog she overcome on the street.