You couldn't see the big cats, but you could hear their roars when we pulled up at the Conservators' Center a few weeks ago. Their voices carried over fences and across open areas. But the reality of what we were about to see hadn't sunk in for my six-year-old.
When our tour started and we walked up to the first pride of both lions and tigers, all she could muster was "wow." And it was pretty much like that for the rest of the two-hour introduction to the animals and keepers at the preserve in Mebane.
The Conservators' Center opened to the public for tours in 2007. Visitors are able to see some of the 21 lions, along with tigers and a collection of smaller cats and animals, including servals, lemurs, wolves, red foxes and more.
In many cases, the Conservators' Center is the home of last resort for the animals. The nonprofit takes and cares for animals that no one else wants, including those that are sick, elderly or have behavioral issues. The nonprofit also is involved in responsible captive breeding of some species.
Reservations are required for all tours, which are held regularly on the weekends. Visitors will get an up close view of the animals - you're typically four to five feet away from the big cats. And you'll learn more about how the animals arrived at the center.
The center also is launching a couple of new tours. Visitors can learn all about what the center's keepers do during the Shadow the Keepers tours. My daughter and I got a preview of the tour when we went and it was absolutely fascinating to see how they feed and worked with the animals (just be prepared to see some dead chickens, feathers and all). My daughter was absolutely captivated.
Shadow the Keeper tours are 10 a.m. to noon April 30 and June 11 for kids ages 6 to 11. They are 10 a.m. to noon May 14 and June 25 for those ages 12 and up. Visitors are welcome to pack a lunch and eat at the picnic shelter after the tour.
The center is offering a 50 percent discount for participants who book their Shadow the Keeper tours before May 15. So that would cut the regular tour price from $40 down to $20.
The price for a regular public tour is $10 for adults and $7 for kids ages 2 to 12. Kids under 2 are admitted free (though note that strollers are not allowed here). My 18-month-old and husband actually drove to the nearby Tanger Outlet Mall while we went on the tour.
Hear more about the Conservators' Center and see some of its animals in the video. Go to its website for more information and to schedule a tour.