What Exactly Is A Red Panda?

red panda in snow

Red Pandas at The Cincinnati Zoo

As winter bore down on the Midwest and Northeast, citizens weary of staving off yet another blizzard while reclaiming cars and homes buried under mountains of snow, finally had something to make them smile.  This small respite, from a winter that would make even Elsa and Olaf cringe, arrived as NBC News aired the story about two red pandas at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden romping in the snow with sheer joy and abandon.

The story was picked up by the wire services and was featured in a variety of news outlets including Wall Street Journal, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail turning these charmers into international, Internet sensations.  The video has been making the rounds on Facebook, and, at last count, has garnered over 2.7 million views on YouTube!  In case you are one of the few who hasn’t seen this, or if you just need to add an additional dose of cute to your day, the YouTube link follows.

Red Pandas Like The Cold

Let’s find out more about these fascinating and cute animals.

What exactly is a Red Panda?

Well, that is the question that baffled scientists for decades. We can see that the Red Panda or “fire fox” is adorable, fuzzy, and entertaining, but what kind of animal is it? Do you think it might be a bear?  Nope, it’s not a bear.  It looks like a raccoon; could it be a raccoon?  Wrong again.  While the Red Panda was previously classified in the families of raccoons (scientific name: Procyonidae) and bears (scientific name:  Ursidae), within the past 15 years it was determined that the Red Panda is a unique species, unrelated to the others.  It has now been placed in its own scientific family:  Ailuridae.

The Red Panda is not even closely related to the Giant Panda. The Red Panda does have a few things in common with the Giant Panda, however.  Both species share part of the same habitat, although the Red Panda’s range is larger; they both have an extended wrist bone which acts almost like a thumb that helps them grip; and they both share an appetite for yummy bamboo.  That is pretty much where the similarities end.

giant pandared panda in tree

The Giant Panda resembles a bear and is about the size of an American black bear.  A male can weigh up to 250 pounds.  However, the Red Panda more closely resembles a raccoon and is about the size of a large house cat.  The average size of a Red Panda is 22 to 25 inches and its fluffy tail adds another 15 to 19 inches.  Its average weight is 7 to 14 pounds.

Where do they come from?

By now, it should come as no surprise that Red Pandas like the cold.  Their thick auburn fur insulates their bodies from the cold and when additional protection is required, they wrap their bushy tails around their bodies to ward off the chill.  The Red Panda prefers the temperate climates found in the forests in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The temperatures in this region are typically cool and remain that way most of the year.  Their range extends from Western Nepal to northern Myanmar.  They can also be found in southwestern China in elevations between 4,900 and 13,000 feet. Like Tarzan, the Red Panda spends most if its time in trees.  It is very agile and can easily traverse among the limbs.  When it time for a snooze, you’ll find the Red Panda dozing high up in the branches.  The Red Panda is most active at night where it can forage for food under the protection of darkness.

region of the red panda

While Red Pandas are for the most part solitary, they often have overlapping ranges. The home range of a female red panda is often one square mile of area.  Males generally live in an area twice that size and sometimes larger during breeding season – usually January through March.

bamboo forest

What do they eat?

Red pandas are technically carnivores.   They will eat a variety of different foods including eggs, fruit, nuts, and roots. On rare occasions a bird or small rodent may supplement the red panda diet.  However, the red panda is primarily an herbivore with a diet consisting mostly of bamboo shoots and leaves.

red panda eating bamboo

The Red Panda does not eat all parts of the bamboo.  The Red Panda seeks out only the young and tender bamboo shoots and leaves.  Bamboo is not easily digestible; therefore the Red Panda has to eat a lot of bamboo to maintain its daily nutritional intake.  Surprisingly a Red Panda can eat around 20,000 bamboo leaves in a day.

How cute are those babies?

The answer is – “Very Cute!”  After breeding during the winter, mom prepares for an early summer birth of her babies.  Before giving birth, mom builds a nest in a hollow tree or bamboo thicket and lines it with moss, leaves and other natural material to make it soft and warm.   The Red Panda gestation is about 135 days, which is a really long time for a mammal of its size.  Typically they have an only one to 4 cubs in a litter. Babies remain in their nest for about 90 days under the constant care and supervision of their doting mother.  (Males take little or no interest in their offspring.)  Red Panda cubs stay with their mother for about a year.   As the cubs transition to solid foods they eat only bamboo until they are old enough to digest other foods.  The cubs grow slowly and reach adult size at about a year old.  They reach sexual maturity at around 18 months.  There is a very high mortality rate among newborns – estimated to be as high as 80% — since the vulnerable cubs are targets for prey animals.  These factors impact population growth.  Once the population is threatened, it is difficult for it to bounce back after a period of decline.

baby red panda

What is happening to the Red Panda population?

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2014.3 lists the Red Panda as “Vulnerable” which means the population is decreasing, in danger of becoming endangered and threatened by extinction.

red panda population

Once Again, Humans Encroaching On Precious Natural Habitats Are To Blame

The Red Panda has a few natural predators such as the snow leopard and marten.  In addition a number of predatory birds and small carnivores prey on the more vulnerable cubs.  However, humans encroaching on precious natural habitats appear to be the primary cause of the Red Panda population decline.  A major threat is the loss of habitat due to deforestation for timber, fuel and agriculture. The increasing human populations have affected land that once provided trees for nesting sites and areas of bamboo forests. There is more competition for food and land from domestic livestock. Dogs used to protect herds are threatening the Red Panda nests. Poaching for the pet and fur trades continues to be a problem.  I think it’s safe to say that humans are the biggest threat to the Red Panda survival.

Fortunately many of our zoos have taken up the challenge to preserve the Red Panda.  Eighty zoos are working with the Species Survival Plan (SSP) and are successfully breeding captive populations.  The Red Panda Network works with zoos, local communities and the general public to promote Red Panda conservation.  If you are interested in more information about the Red Panda, or would like to find out where you can see a Red Panda near you, check out their website.

Photo Credits:

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

Smithsonian, National Zoo

World Wildlife Fund

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

IUCN

Karen Borejka

Karen Borejka, our Wildlife Editor, is a Volunteer Educator for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and is a member of the Association of Zoo and Aquarium Docents and Volunteers (AZADV). She and her husband Vic are “bi-coastal” with a daughter on the east coast and a son on the west coast. Karen and her husband live in Cincinnati, OH with her mom Helen, and their 5 “fur-children” –2 dogs and 3 cats – all rescues. Karen can be reached through Facebook.

Homeless With Pets

man cares for dog

Shortly after Dave and I moved to New Mexico, I began noticing how many of the homeless people here have pets with them.  There’s a mission here in town that we visited about six weeks after we arrived.  They have a food kitchen, and we wanted to take some donations there for Thanksgiving dinner.  Next to the food kitchen was an office where people needing work could sign up to be helped.  And outside, along with all the downhearted, poverty stricken people, were their pets.

A few weeks after that, we were exploring a new part of town, looking for a particular store in a strip center, when a homeless man walked by carrying a guitar…and at his feet walked a perky little puppy, head held high–just like any other dog, happy to be walking at his master’s side.

Most recently, Dave and I went to the local farm coop store where we buy our humanely produced meats and organic produce.  Outside on that particular day, enjoying the warm February weather, was a homeless man and his two dogs.

All of these encounters made me start thinking about the percentage of homeless people that have pets…and how in the world they manage to care for them when they can barely get along themselves…

homeless with pets

Why Do Homeless People Have Pets?

We’ve all read the stories of, and some of us may even personally know, people that had children hoping to be loved.  Then the children went on to betray or disappoint the parents.  In some cases the children are even abused or neglected–all because human beings seldom are able to fulfill the expectations others set for them–love not withstanding.

But the love of a pet doesn’t work that way.  Without judgement or agenda, against all odds and reason, they simply love.  And for the homeless, this may be needed most of all.

Man with dog

Meet Chris and Brandy. Chris is very protective of his pet, since a previous dog was taken by Animal Control because she was unlicensed.

Where Do The Homeless Come From?

Statistics tell us that in the U.S., more than 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year. 35% of the homeless population are families with children, which is the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. 23% are U.S. military veterans.  But…who are they really?

I saw an interview once with Neale Donald Walsch, the author of the Conversations With God series.  In it, he revealed that he had spent a year on the street as a homeless person.

Before, Walsch worked variously as a radio station program director, newspaper managing editor, and in marketing and public relations. In the early 1990s he suffered a series of crushing blows—a fire that destroyed all of his belongings, the break-up of his marriage, and a car accident that left him with a broken neck. Once recovered, but alone and unemployed, he was forced to live in a tent in Jackson Hot Springs, just outside Ashland, Oregon, collecting and recycling aluminium cans in order to eat. At the time, he thought his life had come to an end.

When asked why he hadn’t turned to his children for help, he replied that there were two reasons: 1) he thought every day would be his last and 2) he was too ashamed.  He went on to add:

“Don’t pass anybody on the street,” Neale says. “We’ve all got a quarter or a dime or a dollar or a fiver, that we can let go of. And you can make somebody’s whole day with 50 cents or a dollar. So try never, ever, ever to pass anybody in need. When you see them holding up the sign, ‘Will Work for Food’ or when they walk up and ask for a little bit, share. Share. If you see somebody on the street who’s got his hand out, try to get off your judgment and be generous.”

What’s important to remember is that in a world where one missed paycheck, an abusive spouse or a serious medical condition can put someone out of their home, not every homeless person is dangerous or lazy.

homeless man with dog

How Many Homeless With Pets Are There?

The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that between 5%-10% of homeless people have dogs and/or cats.  It could be more like 25% in rural areas.  These numbers may differ across the country due to a number of factors: weather, the local economy, and the cost of living.

homeless dog gets water

How Can The Homeless With Pets Care For Them?

When I saw the man at the shopping center, though, the first thing that struck me was how the dog didn’t know its dire situation.  He just pranced along in the sunlight, happy to go wherever his man went.  But I wondered for a long time after we gave him money for food, how the man would prevent fleas or heartworm for this wee puppy.  What would he do if the dog were injured?

Even the kindest benefactor often won’t approach a homeless person on the street to offer help for their pet.  And many homeless are fearful if they accept, their pet will be taken away from them.  Often, their pets are the only comfort they have, and their only link to reality.

homeless man with cat

Luckily, there are organizations that can help.  Chief of these is Feeding Pets Of The Homeless. They are a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinary care to the homeless with pets in local communities across the United States and Canada.  For us here in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the local agency that distributes food and medical care for pets of the homeless is Action Programs for Animals, whom we have worked with in the past and plan to again in future.

Here’s a video about their important work:

Many of our readers follow us from Albuquerque and our home town of Cincinnati, Ohio.  There, you can contact these local distribution centers:

St. Martin’s Hospitality Center
1201 3rd St. NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102
505-242-4399

Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry
2319 Madison Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45212
513-275-5842

Pets In Need
520 W. Wyoming Ave
Cincinnati, Ohio 45215
513-761-7387

Faith and Deeds Food Pantry
6921 Morgan Rd., Unit A
Cleves, Ohio 45002
513-638-5024

If your city isn’t listed here, Feeding Pets Of The Homeless has an awesome search feature on their website.

man holds umbrella over dog

Shelter for the homeless with pets is somewhat more problematical.  However, if you are homeless due to domestic violence, you can contact:

Albuquerque, NM

SAFE House

800-773-3645
shelter@safehousenm.org

Statewide New Mexico

Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM)
Companion Animal Rescue Effort (CARE)
CARE Hotline: 844-323-CARE
APNM.org/CARE
ADMIN: 505-265-2322

Batavia, Ohio (Cincinnati area)

YWCA House of Peace
513-753-7281 or 1-800-644-4460

Another Resource for The Homeless

Sunrise House

Word of mouth travels quickly in homeless communities.  Once a food bank or soup kitchen starts distributing pet food, they come.  Some find out about the programs through the websites by accessing the internet at public libraries.

It is our sincere hope that someone reading this post finds the answers they seek here.

 

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at joy@yourpetspace.info as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.

Encountering Dogs In Life and Literature

photo

The author’s dog, Roy–with some yogurt on his nose!

The other day I had an appointment to meet with two directors who oversee social services for homeless communities. I am writing a novel about a homeless man, and I had contacted one of the two women to ask if she could spare an hour to go over a few details with me. We made an appointment, via email, for me to come to her home office, but she let me know in advance that she and her associate were incredibly busy, meaning, no doubt, there would be no room for idle chit-chat beyond my prepared questions.

I wasn’t exactly nervous driving over, but I always feel myself becoming somewhat “reserved” when I am meeting people for the first time, especially in a business setting. So when I rang the doorbell and the door opened and a scruffy little pup ran out and began to dance around my feet, I was enthralled. The ice cracked then and there. The dog’s name was Lucky. As the woman led me to her office, she explained that she’d rescued the dog, so he was lucky, but then so was she: luck all around. As if he knew that we wouldn’t have much more opportunity to talk about him once I sat down, Lucky jumped onto my lap, and he stayed there until the other two women and I were well into our conversation. I felt lucky too.

It’s always a treat for me to walk into a room for the first time and find a friendly dog (or two or three or more) waiting there to greet me. Well behaved or not, a wagging tail and lolling tongue can do a lot to put a stranger at ease. For dog lovers at least, encountering dogs in homes (or offices) informs them immediately that they have something in common with the humans in the scenario. Right away they can presume that these new humans are more laid back, less likely to worry about absolute cleanliness, less inclined to be outraged by a little barking, a cookie stolen from the kitchen counter, a favorite slipper chewed to smithereens. Let’s face it: Dogs are chaos, and some of us thrive in chaotic settings.

travels with lizbeth cover

The sensations that engulf me (pleasure, warmth, familiarity) when I meet a dog in the flesh are only slightly more intense than those I experience when I turn a page in a book and find a dog panting there. One of my all time favorite books, for instance, is a memoir called Travels with Lisbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets, by Lars Eighner, published in the ’90s. This is a remarkable story about the adventures of a homeless man who has lost everything else but relishes in the companionship of his dog, the Lisbeth of the title. The scene where she is taken away from him, for biting someone, is heart-wrenching. So as not to be a spoiler I won’t say how it is resolved (but rest assured, it is resolved).

Want To Read About a Highly Intelligent and Loving Dog?

Another favorite book about dogs, a novel published in 2009, is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Edgar, a child who is mute, is watched over by a highly intelligent and loving dog named Almondine. Edgar’s family raises dogs, so there are lots of dogs in this extremely well-written story, and if you love dogs, you will never want the book to end—certainly not the way it does.

These are two examples of books that are as much about dogs as they are about people. There are also, of course, plenty of books told from a dog’s point of view. Realist that I am, I don’t read this latter genre, though I know from fellow readers that there are many worthy titles within it. I tend to choose books, mainly novels, that explore the human condition or investigate mysteries that I have given thought to myself. Sometimes I will choose a book because someone whose reading tastes are similar to mine has told me it is extremely clever, or incredibly well written, or it has really snappy dialogue, etc. I don’t buy books because I expect to find dogs in them. But just as I am happy when I encounter a dog in real life, I’m happy to find them in the books I read too.

The Accidental Art Thief

Joan’s book, being released in May, 2015.

What a Really Old Dog Can Show About Character

I’m not talking about “dogs barking in the distance,” which seems to go on in lots of books. I’m talking about dogs that have names, personalities, dogs who carry on in the background while the human characters are working out their grievances at center stage, dogs who even work their way into the plot on occasion. Who can forget the really old dog sleeping on the porch in Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men? When politician Willie Stark requires a humanizing photo in front of his family home, his men drag the sleeping dog into the right position, over by the rocking chair if I remember correctly. The gesture is so callus—and it tells us so much about the characters on hand in that moment. And who can forget the dog in Carolyn Parkhurt’s The Dogs of Babel (which, by the way, is a novel about grief, not dogs). Paul, a linguist, learns that his wife has been found dead under the apple tree in their backyard. Since their dog, Lorelei, was the only witness to the death, Paul decides he must teach Lorelei to speak. His obsession is less about believing he can really teach a dog to talk than it is about his urgent need to believe that his wife’s death was an accident and not a reflection of the state of their marriage.

middle age book cover

Not all dogs are well behaved in life, so I wouldn’t expect them to be in books either. When Lionel finally returns home after cheating on Camille in Joyce Carol Oates’ Middle Age: A Romance, the dogs Camille has been accumulating ever since Lionel’s departure attack him. I admit it; I cheered wildly over that scene!

Well Written Dogs VS Books From The Dogs’ Points Of View

If you Google “novels that include dogs” you will find the obvious ones, the books that are basically all about dogs or are told from the dogs’ points of view. Most of them will even have dog names in their titles. There are no lists (that I could find at least) that talk about dogs more or less in the background of stories otherwise about humans. In many cases these background dogs are props, there to give us a hint about the personalities or motives of the characters. But if they’re well written dogs, they will come to life anyway, just as the characters do, and add that certain je ne sais quoi to the story. And meeting them so unexpectedly can feel like a real stroke of luck.

Joan SchweighardtJoan Schweighardt’s fifth novel, The Accidental Art Thief, includes three dogs, a German Shepherd and two mutts. It releases on May 15. You can keep apprised of the launch by liking the title at facebook.com/TheAccidentalArtThief.

The Story Of Several Servals

In a previous post on Exotics, Joy Jones talks about some of the pros and cons of keeping exotic pets and what you should think of when you consider having one in your home.  Some people have done their research and for either personal or professional reasons are ready and able to handle the unique challenges of keeping marsupials, snakes, chimps, alligators, or hybrid cats. These types of pets require special attention and are certainly not for everyone, but let us suppose that you or someone you know has an exotic of an even greater extreme, such as a serval? What do you do when the upkeep of your exotic is no longer a fit for your suddenly changed lifestyle, financial situation, or living arrangements?  If you’re very lucky, you will find your animal a new home, full of loving people who only want the best for the mental and physical well being of someone who is always going to remain a part of your family in your heart.

Conservators Center logo This is where the Conservators Center comes in.  The Conservators Center is a small, nonprofit wildlife conservancy that provides a forever home for wild animals in need, offers educational tours to the public, and coordinates with other reputable organizations to help maintain species that are threatened. The Center is not a zoo and they don’t have a massive “collection” on their grounds, but they are able, at times, to bring in animals deserving of a new home that is more appropriate to their exotic nature. You would expect these guys to be located just about anywhere but in the middle of rural North Carolina, yet just a short drive from my house, visitors can experience the music of singing dogs, the howling of wolves, and the “chuffling” and “oofing” of tigers and lions.

Lion oofing

Matthai Lion oofing–photo by Ron Smith

Yes, you read that right.  Out beyond the pastures in Caswell County, live lions and tigers, along with wolves, foxes, binturongs, lemurs… All in all, about twenty total species call the Conservators Center home, including many small cats, like the servals.

Of all the animals that find a new home at the Conservators Center, it is typically only some of the small animals that had been pets in a previous life.  Lena Serval, originally from the Great Lakes area, is one of those examples. She started out with a career in educational programs, but found herself unsuited for that work and then discovered that life as an indoor cat wasn’t really for her either. We all know that house cats will spray on occasion, well wild cats will REALLY spray, and having that distinct odor in the house can become an issue rather quickly.  Her owners wanted the best for her, so they turned to the Conservators Center, where she was accepted as one of the family. (She still has a small role in education through the tours that are given, but we won’t tell her that.)

Carson Serval

Carson Serval–photo by Kim Barker

 Akai Serval is a different example of household pet.  She was happy to be indoors with her family and shared space with them without worry, until she was six years old, when she started chewing on things that weren’t meant to be chewed on.  Furniture and other household items suddenly took on a whole new purpose in her life, which became an unhealthy habit.  Her owners were prepared to build her an outdoor enclosure, but loved her so much that they knew they wouldn’t be able to force her to live outdoors if she was within sight.  Who among us isn’t guilty of falling for those sweet, sad eyes that gaze up and say, “Why, Human?  What is this strange thing you have done?  Don’t you want me anymore?”  I am probably the biggest sucker of all, so I certainly know that guilty feeling that makes you say to yourself, “Just one more night, THEN we make the change.”  Three months go by and you are still sitting there telling yourself the same thing, “One more night.”  The battle between the heart and the head is probably the hardest of all when it comes to the animals we love.

Knowing this was probably going to be their fate, Akai’s family made the hard choice to search for a home away from them, where their girl would be happy and healthy.  Again, that brought them to the Conservators Center, where Akai Serval had the opportunity to eventually interact with others of her own kind.  They paid for a new enclosure for her and still come by to visit, but Akai’s story doesn’t stop there.  Want to know the happiest part?  It turns out that her parents and siblings are living at the Conservators Center as well.  But wait! There’s more!  Thanks to the forward thinking folks at the Center, her enclosure was built side by side with that of another serval named Carson, who had only been with them for a short time.  The enclosures were built with a connecting doorway that allowed for a careful introduction to be sure the two would get along. The two servals have become good companions and the doors remain open.

So why are some exotic owners, turning to the Conservators Center to provide care for these beloved members of their family?  Primarily, it is because the Center is very specialized. Their focus is on carnivores and their specialty is on the smaller carnivores (though they do have two lemurs , who were taken in after MUCH consideration and research).  In fact, there are a few species of small cat here that are hard to find anywhere else, including genets and jungle cats; both photographed at the Conservators Center by National Geographic Fellow Joel Sartore for his Photo Ark project.

wolf howling

Trekkie Wolf–photo by Taylor Hattori images

 Still, when it comes to rehoming an exotic pet, there must be more than specialization to consider. What kinds of things are involved in the rehabilitation and proper care of a previous pet in this transition phase to their new home?  Many of these animals have bonded to their owners, and as any animal lover can understand, it can become very hard for that pet to let go of its former humans.  In much the same way that your dog pines away for you when you are gone, so do some of the animals that moved to the Center.  Your dog knows you will eventually come home, but these exotic creatures have come from all over, left their homes and their humans behind and find themselves surrounded with sights, sounds, and smells that are completely foreign to them.  Saying goodbye under those circumstances certainly isn’t easy and the Center’s staff work hard to help the animals in the best way that they can. Each animal brought to the Center is seen as an addition to the family, not just another animal to be obtained as part of a collection, and because of the facility’s size and structure, staff are able to give more personalized care than other locations often can provide. Lifetime Adopters, keepers, volunteers, interns, and even staff who are not animal keepers, all take some part in helping to give previous pets enrichment activities and special attention throughout their lives here.

lion and tiger snuggle

Calvin Lion and Wic Tiger snuggle–photo by Taylor Hattori Images

 We have covered the Center’s specialized knowledge, we have looked at the devotion to care that the staff provide the residents, but we haven’t looked at one of the most important parts of this process: the exotic animal itself.  Former exotic pets can come from a place where they have been fed improper diets, or were given meals that do not provide the balanced diet that an exotic animal needs.  Wild cats require whole prey (such as rats) to live happy, healthy lives, and the Conservators Center has experience in helping to transition previous pets to the dietary requirements that are ideal, which is certainly NOT as easy a task as it sounds.

Personal disclaimer: Yes, I am the small animal writer and write many articles about my rats. Yes, I said they feed rats as a part of the diet at the Center. Yes, I have seen evidence of this with my own eyes. No, I do not hold it against the Center. This is the diet that is necessary for the animals in their care and if I’m visiting when there is a little bit of the day’s meal evident, I choose to look the other way. I would much rather see evidence of a healthy meal than an unhealthy one. Oh, and yes, I am a repeat visitor.

Now that I have gotten the business of cat diet out of the way, it is especially important to me that I note two things.  Firstly, because of the very nature and size of the facility, the Conservators Center must be very selective in the animals that they accept. The special needs of the species and space considerations come into play when they consider adding to their family. There is a lot of work involved in rehoming an exotic animal and the Center needs to weigh their ability to provide proper care in the time of that transition. In other words, to be granted a place here is, in a way, an honor. Secondly, in writing this article I am not in any way suggesting that keeping exotic pets is something that anyone and everyone should do. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, this kind of animal ownership comes with very specific responsibilities of research and care. Only a few of the animals currently living at the Conservators Center are former pets and while they do accept animals that have come from varying backgrounds, they do not encourage exotic pet ownership specifically. That having been said, they are still welcoming of animals in need of a new home, regardless of their previous living situation.

But let’s get on to the fun part, shall we? I am sure that there are readers out there who love big cats and picked up on a few hints of some topics that have yet to be covered.  The Conservators Center is a nonprofit organization that takes care of servals and other small animals, but early on I said you could hear the “oofing” of lions at this place, which means they keep the big cats too. Where do they get the money to feed all these beautiful animals?  How do they pay to house them?  Who picks up the vet bill?

lion watching tiger

Thomas Lion watches Freya Tiger moving to her new habitat–photo by Taylor Hattori Images

Bonus Link: Freya Tiger Gets A New Enclosure

As with all nonprofits, a lot of the money comes from donations.  Few of the animals who were once pets are sponsored by their previous owners, as in the case with Akai Serval, so the money must come from other sources.  All of the animals are available for the Lifetime Adoption program through the Center.  This program allows animal lovers everywhere to adopt one of the residents through monthly payments that vary depending on the animal that is chosen.  You can adopt one of the smaller cats, singing dogs, and other unique animals for $75 a month, or if bigger critters (or ones with ringed tails) are your passion, you can adopt one of the lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, and lemurs for $110.  The adoption lasts one year and can be renewed at the end of that time.

Most places send you the adoption information and that is where your participation ends, but that isn’t the case with the Conservators Center.  Sure, you get your name on a sign and a mention on the website, yes, you are given the paperwork and photo that almost every other agency will send out, but what if you want to come for a visit?  At the Conservators Center Lifetime Adopters are given discounts on special tours and merchandise, as well as free admission for the adopter, but it doesn’t even stop there.  If you are a Lifetime Adopter, you are given the chance to work with a staff member to learn how to properly give treats and provide enrichment activities for your animal.  (Before sceptics jump on the dangers, keep in mind the previously mentioned safety record of the Center.  These guys know what they’re doing. A staff member accompanies and oversees these activities with the adopter.)

lion feeding

Lifetime adopter gives treats to her lion with staff escort–photo by Caleb Smallwood

After reading about all of this, you would think that we’ve said it all.  Not quite.  You don’t have to adopt an animal to come for a visit.  Anyone can make a reservation to see the animals on Adventure tours, Photo Safaris, Treats & Toys tours, and Twilight tours, many times getting to hear the “oofing” and “chuffling” of lions and tigers or the howling of singing dogs and wolves that I mentioned earlier.  (For tour information and scheduling, click here.) On top of all of that, there are several special events at the Conservators Center, each a seasonal treat that are as much enjoyed by the humans as they are by the animals who are given the special moments as extra enrichment.  Each year there is a Pumpkin Prowl after Halloween, a Tree Toss after Christmas, and sometimes the animals are given the chance to make paintings (by rubbing against scented nontoxic materials as an enrichment activity) which are then sold at auction.  Still want more?  There is a Girl Scout Day held in the spring and the fall. Oh, and you can friend one of the residents on Facebook!  Just go to ArthurTheTiger.

So the next time you think about visiting some wild animals, think about coming over to North Carolina, where you can stand five feet from over twenty species of beautiful creatures and become lost in the rumbling sound of lions at sunset.  I can’t think of a better way to spend time with these animals than what I discovered in my own back yard.

Keep checking back with Your Pet Space for more articles on the Conservators Center and their residents! I would like to give special thanks to Mandy Matson, Director of Communications at the Conservators Center for putting up with my many questions and for helping me get the records straight for this article.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

 Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has purchased, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Shop

nimoy with his cat and dog

Nimoy, with his own cat and dog.

Sadly, I’ve been saying I was going to get around to this post for more than a year–and now it’s happening in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death.  Sorry, old friend.  But I know somehow you’ll understand…

Nimoy with horse

Sometimes we forget that this business was created to be not only about pets and the people that love them, but also our branding grew out of our deep love of science and science fiction.  No one in science fiction was unfamiliar with who Leonard Nimoy was.  And when he died, every single fan felt it as though he was truly a part of their family.

Because you see, Leonard Nimoy belonged to us–and us to him.

Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Shop

Would you be surprised then to learn, that Leonard Nimoy had a pet shop?  I was!  I actually learned this in the same way that most online wisdom is gleaned–from googling something else.  🙂

nimoy in catspaw

In her 1970 article on Nimoy’s Pet Pad, Michele Jaques says, “Nimoy would have liked Mr. Spock to have a cat or dog on board the ‘Enterprise’.”  For most of his fans, this brings up the Star Trek episode “Catspaw,” where Spock is shown stroking a lovely black cat, who later turned into a woman.  Me-ow, right?  It is obvious though, from his handling of the cat that Leonard loved animals and they loved him.

In the episode “The Enemy Within”, a dog is dressed as a space alien, and once again Nimoy holds a small, furry one in his arms.  This time he looks worried, and rightly so!  In the story, the dog has been divided by the transporter into one angel and one devil dog!

alien dog

According to Jaques, Nimoy went through a bit of a spiritual transformation when Star Trek was cancelled in 1969.  Above all, he spent the years after dedicating himself to doing things that had meaning.  And he considered his pet shop in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley a spiritual venture.  There, he had such animals as chipmunks, monkeys, crocodiles, boa constrictors, even a South American otter!  Leonard himself had a dog and cat, a hamster, two rabbits and a tank full of fish.  His children had a pet tortoise that lived in the back yard.

Nimoy’s Pet Pad lasted only a couple of years…but it was a worthy effort made by a truly Renaissance Man.  Thank you, Leonard.  Thanks for letting all of us know you–really know you.

nimoy with wife and dog

 

Joy Jones  Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at joy@yourpetspace.info as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.