Carnivore center near Pittsboro opening up after 25 years
The Associated Press
PITTSBORO, N.C. | The Carnivore Preservation Trust, once a reclusive home for lions, tigers and other meat-eating cats, has opened its doors and started a high-profile fundraising campaign.
Volunteers have even started to brighten up the 55-acre grounds, adding benches, foliage and decorative touches.
"In the old days, we weren't here for visitors, and no one cared what we looked like," said executive director Pam Fulk. "We still don't use the word 'exhibit.' We're an educational facility and sanctuary first."
Former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill geneticist Michael Bleyman founded the trust in 1981 as an endangered species breeding facility, but the site has been used since his death in 1996 as a sanctuary for leopards, panthers and other species. These days a black leopard, a snow leopard and a 15-year-old, 800-pound tiger are among the residents.
The trust's fundraising efforts have helped draw about $15,000 for construction of a 1,500-square-foot quarantine center to house sick animals. It is to have four separate bays, with jaguar-grade fencing to control the more fierce cats.
"We get calls all the time for rescues, and I am sure as soon as it's ready, we'll have animals," Fulk said. "There are few rescue sanctuaries and animals are euthanized every day."
The trust also is seeking accreditation by The Association of Sanctuaries, which sets out ethical guidelines for animal rescue groups. It would be one of the few accredited centers in the South and the only one in North Carolina.
At the center, 2-year-old tigers Kaela and Rajah play behind a fence, charming visitors with their playfulness. But while they might play as house cats do, they have torn an orange trash can to bits.
"They're so happy and playful," Fulk said. "You forget they can kill you."
A former volunteer who was mauled by a cougar in 1998 was awarded $25,000 in a 2001 civil suit.
Ten years ago a high fence was installed around the property, with nearby trees removed to keep the carnivores from climbing out. An ocelot was said to have escaped in 2000, but trust officials said it was more likely the animal had hidden in deep woods to die.
No animal has escaped in years, and, if one did, employees are ready, Fulk said. They keep enough ammunition on hand to kill every animal there if necessary.
"We would shoot an animal before we'd allow it to go over that fence," Fulk said. "It would break our hearts to have to do that, but human safety is our top concern."
Information from: The Herald-Sun,
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