Carolina Tiger Rescue's name was changed from Carnivore Preservation Trust about 18 months ago. But the mission of this sanctuary for wildcats in Pittsboro has stayed the same.
Abused, neglected and otherwise unwanted wildcats find a lifelong home here. And the public can learn about the plight of wildcats in captivity and in the wild through tours and other programs.
I met up with Scott Miller, the sanctuary's volunteer coordinator, who showed me around the facility and introduced me to some of its 70 animals, including 17 tigers and three lions. Among them is a lion once on display at a hotel in Mexico and two tigers found along a Charlotte road when they were six months old.
An interesting aside: Miller told me it's not unusual to find abandoned or unwanted six-month-old tigers. That's when they start getting really big. And that age also is when federal rules say businesses, such as those that offer photos with baby tigers, can no longer allow public contact with these animals.
At Carolina Tiger Rescue, you won't be coming into contact with the wildcats, but you will get a chance to see them up close. You'll learn the stories of how many of the animals ended up at the preserve during the regularly scheduled guided tours, which are 90 minutes to two hours depending on the group's involvement. The sanctuary also schedules special tours during holidays and school breaks, including the upcoming spring break week in April.
Reservations are required for all tours - don't just show up. Tickets are $14 for adults and $8 for kids 4 to 12. Kids ages 3 and under are free. The sanctuary doesn't receive any state or federal funding. Money from tours helps cover about 25 percent of its expenses.
There also are special events for kids and teens where they can make paper mache balls, scented toys and other so-called enrichment crafts for the animals to play with. Kids Enrichment Days, for ages 8 to 13, are typically on the second Saturday of each month. The cost is $30 per child. No charge for the parents. And the Teen Enrichment Days, for ages 14 to 17, are usually on the fourth Saturday of the month. The cost is $35 per teen.
Carolina Tiger Rescue also offers other special tours, field trips and more. Kids ages 14 and up can volunteer as well. It's all about an hour from Raleigh. Check the website for details. And watch the video to hear more from Miller and see some of the cats.
And finally, some thoughts if you plan a visit: You're out in the country here and there are no paved paths, making it difficult if you plan on bringing a stroller. And while I'm sure my 18-month-old would have loved to see the giant "meow-ows" as she calls cats, I'm also certain I would have had a nervous breakdown making sure she didn't rush the rope and stick her hand through the cage ... because you are really that close. The tours also are guided and there are very strict rules, for good reason, about staying with your guide. So you can't wander around the property with a toddler if she gets bored while the rest of your group continues on the tour. So I'd plan on leaving my young one at home, but it is definitely a great place to bring preschoolers and up.