Monday, February 9, 2009

Carnivore Preservation Trust (Pittsboro, NC)

Overview: The Carnivore Preservation Trust, located in Pittsboro, North Carolina, seeks to provide a refuge and sanctuary for mistreated or unwanted carnivores. For a $10 fee, visitors can tour the 55-acre refuge and learn about tigers, caricals, ocelots and a number of other members in the taxonomic order Carnivora (all members of this order have carnassial teeth, but not all members are carnivorous, i.e., meat eaters). Reservations are required.

Directions: The Carnivore Preservation Trust, located south of Chapel Hill, can be a bit tricky to get to (don't rely on Google maps for this). Detailed directions can be found here.

Observations & Ponderings: My family and I visited the Carnivore Preservation Trust (CPT) on Sunday, January 11, 2009 for the second time. After signing release forms, a friendly guide explained that the trust was originally founded by Dr. Michael Bleyman, who wanted to ensure the survival of keystone species from threatened ecosystems. Dr. Bleyman originally started a breeding program for caracals, servals, ocelots, and binturongs. This breeding program is no longer in place, and CPT now functions solely as a carnivore sanctuary.

After the brief introduction, we followed our guide onto the grounds of CPT where animals are kept in well-maintained habitats, often with heated sleep boxes, delineated by chain-linked fencing. We were first introduced to the caracals (a word meaning "black ears" in Turkish), a sand-colored, medium-sized cat with tufted black ears that is found mostly in the dry steppes and dry habitats of Africa and the Middle East.

Next, we met the the servals (Leptailurus serval) of Africa. These medium-sized cats are tawny and dotted with black spots. They also have a pair of white spots on the back of their ears, which allow servals to lead their young through the tall savanna grass. Interestingly, this cat can consume up to 4,000 rodents each year.

The CPT is home to a number of large tigers (Panthera tigris) of diverse origin: two were collected from the side of the road in North Carolina, others were once kept as pets and some used to be in zoos or the circus. According to our guide, there are currently more tigers in captivity in the state of Texas than exist in the wild. Tigers are found in Asia and prefer dense cover (e.g., forests) close to water. The tigers at the CPT had a variety of temperments; some were curious, others simply hungry for a chicken-leg snack and some seemed to seek out the special pleasure of marking visitors with a misty cloud of urine!

The last carnivore that we met was the binturong (Arctictis binturong), a nocturnal omnivore found in the rainforest canopies of southeast Asia. The binturong is especially significant, as it is "the only known animal with digestive enzymes capable of softening the seed coat of strangler fig", thus making it critical to the dispersal of strangler figs, an important rainforest plant (see: "Meet the animals- Binturong". Carnivore Preservation Trust). The binturong at CPT seemed amicable and enjoyed the banana bits offered by the guide, but they can be quite vicious when cornered.


kat said...

are all tigers known as "panthera tigris"? are bengal tigers? how large were the tigers that you visited? it sounds like you can walk amongst them. how is this safe for both the animals the visitors? why would tigers in zoos attack people, and not these tigers? is it just a matter of provocation? and if so, how can the people who run the trust be sure that the tigers are unprovoked by their visitors? this is so interesting -- please share more!!!

Nicki said...

Great questions! The latin name of all tigers is Panthera tigris, but different tigers have different sub-species names. For example, Bengal tigers are Panthera tigris tigris and Sumatran tigers are Panthera tigris sumatrae.

The tigers we saw varied in size. Some were really large (maybe over 300 lbs?), others were smaller.

The facility seems really safe. We didn't walk in and among the tigers. They have really large enclosures, that are fenced in with tall chain-linked fence. You're allowed to get within a couple feet of these enclosures, but only when accompanied by a guide.

Most of the tigers here were formerly pets or from zoos or the circus, and they may be more tame than some others. But at least a couple of the tigers at this facility seemed to be aggressive. All tigers, even those that used to be pets, can attack people. It isn't necessarily a matter of provocation, but more a matter of instinct.

I LOVE your questions! Please post more if you have them!

Karina said...

Sounds like an interesting place. But if the bintourong actually digests the fig seeds, then they wouldn't be viable and they would be seed predators, not seed dispersers. I'm doubtful that 1) they digest the seeds and think that they probably just eat the fruits and pass (mostly) viable seeds, but 2) I'm also doubtful that this is the only animal eating strangler figs in southeast Asia. Maybe there is one particular fig species that they eat a lot of. Maybe I'll do a bit of research on this in my spare time.

Nicki said...

Hi Karina,

You are right to be skeptical about the binturong being the only known animal capable of digesting the seed coat of strangler figs in its range. I'd be very interested in seeing what you find.

Also, as you may have seen, I corrected the entry to say that the binturong digests the seed coat, rather than the seed. I also added my on-line source for that information, which was a CPT info sheet without further references).