Lions, Tigers and Bearcats, Oh My!
Nestled on the back roads of Burlington is a home to more than 70 wildlife residents that represent different species from around the globe. The goal of the Conservators Center, according to a pamphlet, is reconnecting and educating people of the Triad and surrounding areas about the animals that share our planet. At the Conservators Center, you can see wolves, tigers, leopards, New Guinea singing dogs, servals, caracals, jungle cats, binturongs and many others.
The Conservators Center was founded in 1999 and according to the website, “Douglas Evans and Mindy Stinner founded the Center as an educational nonprofit dedicated to providing a specialized home for select carnivore species.” In 2004, according to the website, the center accepted 14 jungle cats rescued from “unacceptable living conditions,” and that grew the population in a matter of months to over 30 cats at the center. Guided tours started in 2007 and today there is much more offered by the Conservators Center.
Volunteers and employees of the center all agree that it is not just a place to visit, but rather, it is a place that stays with you after you leave–it’s a place you can’t walk away from and forget.
“The passion that is exuded from animal people,” Joy Courson, general manager of the center said. “Whether you are actually at a facility like this or not, that passion that comes with those who believe in the animal industry is a much different passion than that of people who just like animals.”
Courson began volunteering with the center back in 2009 and spent the last eight years as a volunteer accountant. Now, as the general manager, she said her passion for animals at the center came with a “soul-sucking bungee cord” that she could not escape. Kevin Robinson, a guide, and volunteer for the center said he visited once for a weekend and then got hooked.
“I worked in downtown D.C., I worked in the city,” Robinson said. “I would leave after work on Friday at 7 p.m. and drive down here, volunteer all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday and I would drive back home Sunday night exhausted yet happy.”
Courson said she invites and encourages residents from the Triad area to come and see the animals in person and learn more about them so that they can better understand them and become an advocate for their conservation.
“When you see them,” she said. “It kind of clicks for you to understand that these animals are here because they are losing their homes in the wild and we can’t protect them in the wild if we don’t start educating here.”
Robinson said the Triad is the area that the center is closest to, but it is also the area that the center sees the least number of visitors from. Robinson said he wishes to see more people from the Triad visit since it is so close. “We get people that visit from the other side of Fayetteville,” he said. “It is rare for us to get people from Greensboro.”
Jordan McNeill, a teacher that volunteers as a tour guide for school groups said the Asheboro Zoo and the Greensboro Science Center could be reasons why not many people from the Triad to visit the Conservators Center.
“I think we exist in a different niche than those places,” she said. “The opportunities we have here to give a guided tour, where we are the educators- it is not up to the teachers to design this field trip to be what they want it to be. They can just sit back and take a little bit of a break. Our tour guides are giving them information that is correlates with their curriculum, and that is appropriate for their grade level.”
McNeill said thanks to a grant of $75,000 from the museum in Raleigh; the Conservators Center has been able to expand their educational program. The center offers Adventure Tours (described on the pamphlet as a “wonderful introduction” to the park), Treats and Toys tours (where guides present residents with treats and scents), Twilight Tours (available from April to September), Whiskers and Tails tours ( for younger children up to 7 years old) and other premium experiences (that includes seeing the lions “oofing,” or collectively roaring).
“Places like this are necessary because there are animals in captivities and there are fewer and fewer places in the wild for these animals to live,” Robinson said. “What is going to happen when these tiny, little populations of lions collapse and go away? What is going to happen to the lions? They will be gone, gone forever.”
For the holidays, the center hosts Winter in the Wild, in which participants can learn how each species experiences winter and what the center does, according to the website, “to ensure everyone stays happy, healthy, and warm.” Throughout the park will also be glittering holiday lights as decorations, from November throughout December and there is a Christmas tree toss in January. Cranberry Tree Farm donates their unsold Christmas trees each year to the center and they “toss” the trees into the enclosures for the animals as an enrichment. Robinson said the animals enjoy the scent of pine and the feel of the scratchy texture.
The tree toss this year is scheduled for Jan. 6 and 20 from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. According to the website, the tree toss is a self-guided tour that is $26 per adult and $20 per child under 12 years old. Winter in the Wild for the family is formatted for all ages and lasts for one hour. Winter in the Wild for adults (ages 13 and up) last one to one and half hour depending on participation. The costs for Winter in the Wild ranges from $16 to $20. For more information about the Conservators Center, visit the website, www.conservatorscenter.org or see it for yourself at 676 E. Hughes Mill Rd. in Burlington.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.