Big Cat steps down at Cedar Cove
New director vows to carry on founder’s vision for feline conservatory
By: Kristen Waggener, email@example.com
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 4:43 PM CDT
Just off a dusty gravel road about two miles east of Louisburg, a man in a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran’s cap walks up to a large cage and begins whacking his hand on a thick, wooden slab sitting a few feet above the cement ground.
Only thick, green bars separate William Pottorff and the rest of the world from what he calls some of the most noble, intelligent creatures.
“Get up here,” Pottorff yells through the bars.
He sets his wooden-splintered cane aside and whacks his hand down on the board once more, but the Siberian and
Instead, they sit with their silky orange and black fur glistening in the sun. They’re tired and hot, and Pottorff says they don’t want to exert the energy to jump up to the ledge.
But they’ll move close enough to those green bars for Pottorff to crouch down and give them a belly rub.
It took more than 30 years to get here, but for Pottorff, the work was well worth it.
A LOVE THAT NEVER GOES AWAY
In October, Pottorff’s 30 years came to an end. He’s packed his things and moved from the 11-acre preserve to
Pottorff’s not gone for good, though. He still visits occasionally, walking through the grassy paths to check up on his proverbial children.
“Nobody knows more about these cats than he does,” Fries said.
As Pottorff walks through the observation area, each cat’s eyes follow him, from one side to the other. The cats let out low-pitched, rather demure meows for their size and shift their bodies, so they can always have him in their sight. He kisses one of the cats through the bars, while Fries pats another’s belly, actions reserved for only the trained volunteers at Cedar Cove.
“They’re not pets. There’s no such thing as taming a wild animal,” Pottorff said.
The cats are some of 19 big cats at Cedar Cover Feline Conservatory, but Pottorff and Fries are two of just a few that have dedicated time and energy to conserving large felines.
“I can’t safely crawl up in those primary enclosures anymore,” Pottorff said. “…I’m a 100 percent disabled veteran and just can’t do it anymore.”
That’s why Cedar Cove’s founder has handed over the reins to Fries, a park volunteer since 2003.
“Larry’s my man, now,” Pottorff said.
CONTINUING THE WORK
No matter how much he wants to, Pottorff can no longer be the gatekeeper of the endangered giants, but he can’t forget why he started the conservation park, which opened to the public nearly seven years ago. It’s all about the cats — their health, their happiness.
And the cats can’t forget Pottorff, either.
He can still see the fruits of his life’s work. He can still walk the grassy path around the sanctuary like it is his second home. But what’s really important is that he can still go up to those dark green bars, whack the wooden ledge and smooch the silky orange and black faces like they are his own children.
“I can’t hold enough respect for them,” Pottorff said. “…I can walk out to one of these cats and look at it and in a second tell if I should approach it or not.”
Fries said the park initially started with the mission of educating the public about the endangered status of the big cats, and seeks to alleviate the fear much of the public has.
“Our cats are like ambassador cats,” Fries said.
Long-time volunteer Shelly Tooley said even though it will be hard to not see Pottorff there each day, she’s confident the park will continue to grow and thrive under Fries’ leadership.
“I was with Billy from the beginning,” Tooley said. “I helped him build the park. It’s sad to see him go … but Larry’s going to be good for the park as president.”
Fries said the transition is the perfect time for the park to grow.
“It’s a golden opportunity to take the park to the next level and further educate future generations about the plight of the wild animals,” he said.
Included in the plans for Cedar Cove are the completion of a new tiger cub exhibit this summer and working on the habitat enclosure, where the cats can roam.
“I fully intend to carry on Billy’s vision,” Fries said.
Just by looking, you can already tell that’s true. The cats look at Fries like they look at Pottorff. They count on him to provide their meals and their happiness. And they instinctively nudge up against the dark green bars when he’s around to garner some affection.