Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright

Myriad factors make India exotic, one of them being that it houses the tiger, a fierce and majestic animal. The tiger has for centuries kindled the interest of people. Tiger tales are replete in the country’s mythology and Indian folklore.


Pictured are tiger paw prints left in the mud. Shot taken from the Indian film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans.

Mythology In India

The Atharva Veda (the Hindi religious text of magical formulas), the Hindu epics–the Ramayan and the Mahabharat–and Buddhist tales bestow occult powers on tigers. Tigers were believed to have the power to bring rain, battle dragons, safeguard kids from nightmares and have healing prowess. Winged tigers have been shown as flying into the Milky Way, carrying princesses on their backs, on a mission to save the world. In Islam it’s believed that tigers protect the faith’s followers and mete out punishment to traitors.

The Warli tribe of India worships the Vaghdeva, the tiger god. They think of the tiger as a symbol of life and regeneration. They offer a fraction of their harvest annually to the tiger. They also consider the animal as a harbinger of fertility. When Warli couples visit the temple of the goddess of marriage, Palaghata, they adorn themselves in colorful red and yellow shawls. The tribal Indian folklore states, if the goddess is not pleased, the shawl will turn into a tiger and devour the couple. If the goddess is pleased the couple will be blessed with a bonny baby. Warli paintings depict a tiger as a part and parcel of daily life, both relaxing in and prowling through the villages. The Baigas of Central India, consider themselves as descendants of the tiger.

In the state of Nagaland, tigers and man are said to be born of the same mother spirit, hence brothers. Both have been believed to emerge from a common passage which happened to be the pangolin’s den. Tiger dances, in which young kids participate, are an intrinsic part of the tradition of the Udipi town in Karnataka. In North Bengal, both Muslims and Hindus worship the Bengal tiger. Paintings depict a Muslim priest atop a tiger fighting evil. The Hindu goddesses Bonbibi (The bride of the forest) and Dakshin Rai safeguard the forest dwellers from crocodiles, demons and last but not the least the tiger’s wrath. Rice, sweets, and fruits are offered to Bonbibi and Dakshin Rai is pacified with music so that they keep the fury of the striped feline at bay.

Shiva, the consort of goddess Durga, wears the skin of the tiger, which is symbolically indicative of the fact that he’s beyond the peripheries of the natural world. As per the myth, Lord Shiva was wandering through the forest naked. The wives of the forest dwelling sages were awed by his stark naked beauty. The sages felt insecure that they’d lose their wives. They captured a fierce tiger in a pit and thought that it would slay Shiva. He slew the animal and wrapped its skin around his body instead. The revered and fearsome animal is at times also shown in benign light. For instance, Indian folklore speaks of sages praying in sanctuaries surrounded by placid tigers.


Tiger fossils have been discovered in India aged 12,000 years, indicating when the tiger made its entry into the region. The Ice Age made north Asia inhabitable for tigers. That compelled them to seek greener pastures in southern territories. The tiger has been etched on the seals of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (2900 BC-1900 BC). The tiger of the Bengal state of India has been the country’s national symbol since 2500 BC. The animal was also the royal symbol of the Chola dynasty from 300 A.D to 1279 A.D. Tipu Sultan, who ruled India in the late 18th century, nurtured great admiration for the Bengal tiger.

The tiger population depleted with indiscriminate hunting. In fact, tiger hunting was a popular royal pastime. In the early 16th century, Emperor Akbar initiated this kingly sport in India. His descendants continued with this practice till 1857 which marked the fall of the Mughal dynasty. Rajput, Mongol, Afghan and Turk nobles of India also went on a tiger hunting spree. They rode on troops of elephants and entered the dense jungle to drug, bait and kill the tiger. They triumphantly exhibited the severed head and hide of the animal in their royal palace. They backed the hunting of the animal with the excuse that the tiger was perennially lusting for human blood (which is factually wrong).

Bengal tigers continued to be mercilessly slaughtered in India during the latter phase of the British rule. Colonel Geoffrey Nightingale fired bullets into and thereby killed 300 Indian tigers. In the 1920’s, the second Umed Singh, the king of Kotah, hunted the animal at night with machine guns and cannons. The Rewa kings of Central India thought it was spiritually fortunate to kill 108 tigers for their crowning.

Historian Mahesh Rangarajan calculated the number of tigers slaughtered from 1875 to 1925 as exceeding 80,000. Not all of these thousands of tigers were hunted by royalty. Some were killed as they were thought to be a threat to man. The massacre of tigers continued in the early years of independent India. Royalty and non-royalty alike went on tiger hunting escapades. Maharaja of Surguja proudly proclaimed that by 1965, he had killed 1,150 tigers. The most powerful tigers were hunted to flaunt the hunter’s bravery. Consequently, the strongest felines were eliminated from the gene pool.


The white tiger is a pigmentation variant of the Bengal tiger, which is reported in the wild from time to time in the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal and Bihar in the Sunderbans region.


Rising stars in Hollywood draped themselves in tiger hides, flaunting them as the latest fashion. Tiger rugs and coats from India were sold worldwide at exorbitant prices. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, upon coming into power, came down strongly on tiger poachers. At the end of the 19th century, when Rudyard Kipling had written Jungle Book, there were 50,000 to 100,000 tigers. In 1971, just 1,800 of them remained. The Delhi High Court in India banned tiger hunting in 1971.

There were 4000 tigers at the time of Indira Gandhi’s death in 1984. After her demise, once again the tiger population started dwindling. Tigers were illegally hunted for their bones and to procure ‘Chinese medicine’. In 2010, 1,706 tigers were found in India.  2,226 was the head count of Indian tigers in 2014.

Under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 of India, killing a tiger elicits maximum three years of imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs 25,000 ($370 U.S dollars).  If a tiger is killed inside a tiger reserve, then it’s a mandatory jail term of three years which may be extended to seven years and a fine which ranges from Rs 25,000 ($740 U.S dollars) to Rs 2,00,000 ($2960 U.S dollars). If the animal has been killed in the core area of the tiger reserve, it’ll result in seven years of imprisonment and a fine ranging from Rs 5,00,000 ($7,399 U.S dollars) to Rs 50,00,000 ($73,990 U.S dollars). Despite this, tigers are still poached. Sometimes tigers are killed when they encroach on the villages in search of prey, because of deforestation. Boars are regularly tied to a stake in the forest fringes outside the villages, so that the tigers are always full stomached and therefore don’t have to hunt man, cattle, poultry, goats and sheep.

It’s not the natural tendency of a tiger to feast on human flesh. Very seldom do tigers become man-eaters. Wildlife conservationist, Valmik Thapar, suggests that experts should judiciously ascertain if a tiger is a man-eater or not. He feels that if a tiger is too dangerous to be rehabilitated into the wild, the animal should be put to sleep peacefully. rather than serve the remainder of his natural life behind the bars of a zoo. At times, furious mobs have lynched tigers which have killed men.

Often livestock graze in forested areas during which the tiger may capture and eat them. The reason for grazing in the forested area may be that the pasture lands of the villages may have been over-grazed. Human beings, in the search of honey and firewood, venture into the forest depths, and inadvertently walk right into the jaws of the tiger. Often these gatherers have no other source of employment. Tigers are excellent swimmers and can easily pounce on boats and flee with prey. The fishermen in tiger areas are at great risk of tiger related deaths.


A scene from the film, Roar, shows a white Bengal tiger pouncing onto a boat. Bengal tigers have incredible power and athleticism.

The government, in some areas, has made fences out of wooden poles and wired mesh; to keep away tigers from villages. An aversive technique to keep away tigers from villages is electrified human dummies which will produce a mild electric shock. The dangerous tigers receive a shock which is powerful enough to render them unconscious temporarily. The tigers are then captured in cages and freed in a dense area of the jungle. Financial compensation is given to families who have lost their family members and farm animals to the tiger. Efforts are being made so that the tiger and man can peacefully co-exist in India.

Habits and Lifestyle

A tiger is a carnivorous mammal, which lives between eight to ten years in the wild. On an average, it weighs between 240 to 500 lbs. The wild cat’s roar can be heard from three kilometers away.

The Indian tiger loves to feed on deer and wild boar. If it doesn’t find deer and boar; it may have no choice but to prey on birds, rodents and insects. The most common diet usually available to wild tigers in India is comprised of the chital or spotted deer, sambar deer species, sika deer, nilgai (antelope), buffalo, gaur (bison), civets, monkeys, porcupines, frogs, fishes, crabs, giant lizards and snakes. At times, they’ll also hunt baby elephants and rhinos. The feline’s favorite hunt time is on cloudy days or at sun set. They prefer hunting alone instead of in pairs or packs. They take advantage of their coats to camouflage in the flora of the forest and pounce upon their prey when they least expect it.  After the kill, they tear apart and eat the prey in a secluded spot. To facilitate digestion, tigers may eat the following: berries, grass and fruit.

During courtship time, male and female tigers attract one another with howls and whines. Males start roaring to which females respond. When they meet one another face to face, they purr and sniff one another. Post conception, the cubs grow in the tummy of the mother for 16 weeks.

still from film

A white Bengal tiger and her cub resting.

A litter of three cubs is generally born. Each cub weighs approximately two pounds. The cubs don’t leave the den for the first two months. The father tiger at times tries to kill the babies. If any human being takes away the cub, the mother tiger is likely to sniff the trail and rescue the cub after killing the human. Tiger cubs have a high morality rate. The cubs learn to hunt with their mum. Generally, there’s one dominant cub in each litter.

National pride

The following states in India have tiger reserves: Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chattishgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkhand, West Bengal and Karnataka. The Royal Bengal Tiger has been made the national animal of India because of its strength, grace, agility and power.


Photo of Bengal tiger seated next to a cast member for the movie Roar. Although CGI helped create various scenes of tigers in action, real trained tigers were still used on set for the film.

Indian Folklore: Tiger sayings

The Royal Bengal Tiger is often not mentioned by its generic name by the forest dwellers/villagers bordering forests in West Bengal. The prevailing superstition is that the forest goddess whose mythological vehicle is the tiger, will get peeved as she considers referring to the tiger by its real name disrespectful. The tiger has therefore been nicknamed: Raymoni, Babu (master), Alubepari (referring to the male tiger’s testicles which villagers think resemble potatoes), Bon Bibir Bahan (the vehicle of the forest goddess). It’s feared that if mentioned by its name, the tiger will attack.

Away from the forest, the tiger is mentioned by its name with ease and there are many sayings, idioms and proverbs around the animal. Some of them that prevail in the Bengali language are as follows:

·         “Bagher bachcha bagh”: A tiger’s baby is a tiger (literal meaning): The attributes of a praiseworthy person prove that’s he’s/she’s like his/her  laudable parent just like a tiger cub is also a tiger (figurative explanation).

·         “Jekhane bagher bhoy sekhane sondhe hoy”: Where you spot a tiger, evening sets in (literal meaning): There’s danger already which is being intensified just like darkness sets in when you see a tiger.

·         “Jole kumir, dangay bagh”: There are crocodiles in the water and tigers on the land (literal meaning): There’s trouble all around just like one being surrounded by crocodiles and tigers, in water and on land.

·         “Byaghro bikrome juddho kora”: To fight as ferociously as tigers (literal meaning): To fight till the last like ferocious tigers which never give up in a fight (figurative meaning)

·         “Bagh mama sheyal bhagne”: Uncle tiger and nephew fox (literal meaning): To indicate a close bond like a fox and tiger (the fox is said to trail the tiger for leftovers, hence the apparent idea of a close bond has developed) (figurative meaning).

·         “Bagher pechone pheuer moton”: Being close at the tiger’s heels in the hope of meal remnants (literal meaning): Referring to flatterers and  sycophants, who please powerful people for favors like carrion animals follow the tiger for scraps (figurative meaning).

Future of the Tiger 

The current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government of India led by Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is apparently toying with the idea of stripping the tiger of its national animal status and giving it to the lion instead. All animals are beautiful creations of God including the lion. Nevertheless, this replacement may work against the tiger, which is already a seriously endangered species in the country. Wildlife activists have expressed their disapproval regarding this. Let us hope, that the tiger continues to be the country’s national animal and efforts are made to save and multiply them.

Movie poster for the film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans.

Movie poster for the film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans.


All pictures in the article are taken from the Indian film, Roar: Tigers of the Sunderbans, directed by Kamal Sadanah. It was a fictional film on Indian tigers released in 2014. I have the permission of the director, who is happy to give us pictures from the official website of his film. If you’d like to check out the movie for yourself or learn more about the the film click the link, Roar, to see more.

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like gingertail.in, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life. 

Birds Of India

Incredible India has a wide array of feathered species. There are approximately 1314 species of birds in the country. Forty two of them are endemic to India. Here’s a brief overview of thirty out of the hundreds of Indian birds that exist:

peacock full

Peacock, photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Peacock: It was declared the national bird of India because of its grace and beauty and connotations related to Indian philosophy and spirituality. Indra, the Hindu god of rain and thunderstorms, is often portrayed as a peacock. It is also considered as the vehicle of Hindu god Muruga. It’s believed in India that when the male bird spreads its wings, rain is on the way. Wild peacocks live in forested regions near water bodies in India. The bird is also domesticated in villages.

magpie robin

Magpie Robin

Magpie Robin: This bird is found in India, right from the Himalayas in the north to Cape Comorin in the south. At one point of time, it was believed that at least a pair of magpie robins lived in every Indian garden of Agra and Oudh. The male bird is a white and black bird, unlike the larger English robin. It’s seen as flying above the ground at a height of 6000 feet, performing gymnastic feats in the air. It lays eggs either in the hole of a building or in the hole of a tree.

Indian Snake Bird: This fish eating bird has a dagger like beak and long neck. It throws the fish up in the air and swallows it. It’s an agile swimmer and powerful flier. Nicknamed the Indian darter, the bird is found both in salt and fresh water bodies; in creeks, tidal estuaries and lakes. Once, this bird was kept as a pet by Indians. The Buddeas, a band of gypsies who wandered all over East Bengal in boats loved keeping these birds as pets.


Scarlet Minivet

Minivets: This bird is as colorful as a rainbow: red, yellow, gray, blue, green, black and white. These tiny longed tailed birds are veritable nomads who don’t remain in one place, unless they are nesting. There are various species of minivets in India, with most of them dwelling in the Himalayan mountain range. The cup like nest of these birds, composed of grasses, twigs, moss and cobwebs is in itself a work of art.

Pied woodpeckers: Of the many species of woodpeckers that dwell in India, a few have pied plumes. Most of them live in the Himalayas. One species lives in Cochin and another in the Andamans. This black and white bird has a yellow forehead and short red crest. The lower plumes are white in color. Like other woodpeckers, this bird also searches for insects in tree trunks. Nuts, seeds, berries and fruit are also a part of its diet.


Pied Crested Cuckoo

Pied crested cuckoo: The upper part of the bird is black and the tail feathers are white. It’s also called the Rain Bird as with the onset of the monsoon, this bird can be seen. It has migratory instincts and graces India during the wet season.

Vulture: This bird of prey, though available all over India, is depleting in numbers; nine species of vulture exist in the country nowadays. They are most prominent in cremation grounds. A common sight is vultures feeding on the remnant of an unburned corpse which is afloat on the water of the River Ganges.

Peacock, tail spread.

Peacock, tail spread. Photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

The Indian Robin: This bird is found in grassy and stony regions and scrub forests. They lurk in dry habitats and avoid areas of wet rainfall. These birds have queer nesting habits with nests made of grass, cotton and vegetable fibers. The nest is lined with human or horse hair, feathers and snake’s skin. It mainly feeds on insects but may catch a lizard or a frog when feeding the young.

The Shikra: This bird of prey is a slightly built bird as big as a pigeon. The upper plumes are gray, the wings and tail are black, the breast is white with brown spots in young birds. It was a favorite of falconers as it could be trained to procure food with great alacrity. However, as it has feeble claws it can’t tackle large quarry. The bird feeds mainly on lizards and also gulps down sparrows, small birds, mice and rats.

Grey Hornbill: This bird is found on the plains of India at an elevation of 2000 feet. It’s found in the southern Himalayan foothills and the Ganges delta in the east. It makes nests in the hollows of lofty trees between April and June. It tries to keep away from human beings, which is why it loves to inhabit forest tracks. It feeds on fruit, and is often seen on Banyan and Peepal trees. After plucking a berry, it tosses the fruit up into the air and then catches it with its beak.

Flamingo: The two types of flamingos which exist in India are the common and lesser flamingos. Flamingos can be seen in lakes and backwaters around Chennai. The Pallikarnai wetland in Chennai, Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat and Sewri in Mumbai are some of the places where these birds are found in India. In the Runn of Kutch, when there’s sufficient rain, flamingo nests can be seen. The bird is unfortunately decreasing in numbers in the country.

Paddy Bird: Also known as the pond heron, it looks for prey from small water bodies. It is often seen at the side of soaked paddy fields. It’s frequently seen standing on the water’s edge, all huddled up. It bears the ill reputation of being a lazy creature. The bird loves snacking on frogs and water insects. It is commonly seen in the country’s wetlands. It is often seen making use of the water hyacinths to dig deeper into the water to find prey.

Merlins: They are pygmy falcons which are found at both sea level and high mountains. They feed on reptiles, small birds, insects and bats. They tend to inhabit deserted nests of other birds. In earlier times, they were used for the purpose of falconry.

Green pigeons: In the wild, these birds love to inhabit fruit trees, preferably in forested areas. It happens to be the state bird of the Indian state of Maharashtra. These yellow footed green plumed birds live in flocks.


parrot photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Parrots: These birds are often kept as caged pets in India. Some pet owners even clip their wings and teach them human talk. The Kamasutra manual says that it’s necessary for a man to teach a parrot to talk. They are also considered birds of love in India and many a fable has been woven around them. The first written mention of the parrot was apparently in the ancient Rig Veda text of India.

Parakeets: These birds which have originated in India live from 25 to 30 years. The Ringneck variety can live up to 50 years. The Ringnecks feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables and berries. They are seen in miniscule cages in many Indian households, though it’s illegal to do so. They’ve been bred in captivity in India ever since 200 BC. They are popular as pets as they can mimic human voice.

Bulbul: There are various kinds of bulbuls in India. They come in various colors- yellow, red, orange etc. They munch on fruits, seeds, tiny insects, nectar, arthropods and small vertebrates. These birds are known to be monogamous.

Common Cuckoo: This solitary and shy bird is found in open woodlands and forested areas. In villages, the sweet song of the bird, rings through the trees, especially in spring. It also has the negative reputation of being a brood parasite. It lays a solo egg in the nest of a crow or a drongo and destroys an egg from the nest to lay its own. Thereby the lazy bird shirks the responsibility of child raising.

Wire tailed swallow: They are called wired tailed as they have fine long outer tail feathers which hang like wires. They are generally spotted in pairs near water bodies and human habitats. They feed on insects which are often caught while they are flying. They build bowl like nests close to water bodies.

Kingfisher: Out of ninety species of kingfishers in the world, a dozen are found in India. The Common Kingfisher or River Kingfisher is quite widespread in the country. The White Throated Kingfisher, also known as the Tree Kingfisher resides away from water bodies. The Pied Kingfisher is found in fresh waters. The Blue Eared Kingfisher is spotted in streams in deeply wooded areas. The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher loves to live in shaded streams in moist forests with broad leaved trees. The Brown Winged Kingfisher is seen in mangroves, coasts, creeks and tidal rivers. The Stork Billed Kingfisher dwells in sluggish waterways and shaded lakes. The Ruddy Kingfisher lives in forested swampy mangrove areas. The Crested Kingfishers prefers swift mountainous rivers and river foothills.

Terns: Though predominantly sea birds; they are also found in marshlands, ponds and lakes. They also eye places which are fast drying up, as they can find their prey which comprises of fish more easily there.

Indian crow variety

Indian crow variety, photo courtesy of Sushmita Roy

Red Turtle Dove: This bird exists throughout India, more so in South India, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It’s a summer visitor to the country. They like to reside in wooded tracts and tree plantations. They try to stay away from deserted regions.

Hoopoes: This bird can be seen in North India digging out insects from the soil from dawn to dusk. Their egg laying season is in early spring of the northern hemisphere. They build nests in the cavities of trees and buildings. Unlike some other bird species, they aren’t wary of humans.

Sarus Crane: Also the largest bird of India, this crane was once found nowhere outside the country. This happens to be the only crane species in India which stays in the country all year round. It exists along the Gangetic plains. It lurks about in shallow waters digging into the mud eating aquatic plants, insects (mainly grasshoppers) and fish (during captivity). It breeds predominantly during the monsoon in India.

This bird is venerated by Indian Hindus and there was a prohibition against eating its flesh in ancient Hindu scriptures. It was a close contender to the peafowl in the race to being the national bird of India. It’s been observed that if the bird’s mate is killed, its partner wails for days. The killing of the bird is believed to have inspired a deeply grieved sage Valmiki to pen the Hindu epic Ramayan.

Swallow Plover: These plover like birds with fork tails, skim over the surface of water and predominantly feed on insects. They lay eggs on sandy islets. An interesting feature of the eggs that they lay is that each egg looks very different.

Sunbirds: These birds are honey suckers who are found in the warmer parts of peninsular India and fly away from the colder parts of the country in winter. The male birds have lovely voices and sing as sweetly as canaries. Sometimes they feed on tiny insects. They build unique nests with cobwebs wound round branches from which the nest hangs. Their pear shaped nests are lined with cozy silk cotton.

myna bird

Myna bird, photo courtesy of Kurush Dastur

Myna: This bird has a black hooded head, brown body and yellow patches below the eyes. Mynas in north-west India are paler than the south Indian birds. They breed all over, right from sea level to a height of 3000 meters in the Himalayas. This bird uses and also usurps the nests of woodpeckers and parakeets, often by knocking out the chicks. They feed on arachnids, insects, reptiles, crustaceans, seeds, small mammals, grains, fruits etc. Seeing one myna is considered unlucky and seeing a pair is thought to be lucky in India.

Indian crow

Crow variety, photo courtesy of Veerendra Bhargava

Crow: It’s a very common bird in India. They are carrion birds which are believed to clean up the place. Crows’ nests are seen often on Indian trees. At marketplaces they are seen sifting through garbage for scraps of food. This bird also has an interesting place in Hindu mythological literature.

Sparrow: Sparrows, seen widely in India twenty years ago, now are an endangered species in the same country. The house sparrow has a merry, chirping call. Animal activists all over India are raising a hue and cry to save this bird. These tiny birds feed on cereal grains, livestock feed and insects.

Indian pigeon

Pigeon variety, photo courtesy of Veerendra Bhargava

Pigeon: Feeding pigeons is considered as a pious act in India. A common sight is people feeding numerous pigeons food grains in public places, especially early in the mornings. White pigeons with tails with gorgeous plumes were patronized by Indian royalty in yesteryear.

Pallavi Bhattacharya

Pallavi Bhattacharya from Mumbai in India is the pet parent to a white rabbit named Potol. She feeds stray dogs and cats. She has written for leading Indian publications on animals/ pets like gingertail.in, Dogs and Pups, Cats and Kittens, the Furs, Feathers and Fins magazine and Buddy Life. 

The Conservators Center Update

It is with a happy heart that I get to report on the goings on at the Conservators Center as a part of our spotlight on animal organizations. So many things have happened there since I last wrote The Story of Several Servals back in March that I thought it was time for an update. The folks at the Center have been very busy fighting the wording of House Bill 554, raising funds for the summer care of their animals (who have been painting up a storm), and welcoming a new member to their animal family. Below is a quick review of what is going on with my favorite place to meet Lions, Tigers, Wolves… and now, a Coyote!

House Bill 554

If you receive our newsletter, you might have seen that the Center was facing some serious concerns with a new bill (House Bill 554) which was intended to protect the public from harmful wild animals. The issue with said bill continuing the way it was written was that it would require many legitimate organizations to shut down and could have led to the euthanization of some animals. Places like the Conservators Center, Duke Lemur Center, and other wildlife sanctuaries open to the public would no longer be able to function under the conditions specified, since they give guided tours of their facilities in order to help raise funds to care for the animals, as well as to educate and promote conservation. After many polite emails to all the right people and much discussion of the bill on voting day, it was announced that the bill would be reworded and that the Conservators Center and other facilities with the same purpose would not be forced to close. There are still a few issues with the bill as it has been changed, mostly related to technical language and industry concepts that are hard to negotiate, but as it stands, the Conservators Center and many similar places around the state can remain open and active. If you wrote to your legislators, I thank you, and I know the Center thanks you as well.

Meet Sullivan!

At around the same time, a small pup was found along the side of a local road and taken in by some well-intentioned people who thought they had found a feral dog. At the first visit to their vet, they were in for quite a surprise when they discovered they had a small coyote on their hands. Sadly, because it can be easy to mistake a coyote pup for a coyote-dog cross or for a feral dog, the coyote had been taken into the home of humans and treated as a puppy would be and it was impossible for him to be re-released into his wild home. It wasn’t long before the Conservators Center was contacted and the pup was given a new home, with trainers and handlers who are used to working with wild animals.

sullivan the coyote pup

Sullivan as a pup. – Photo by Taylor Hattori Images

The Conservators Center had a naming contest for Sullivan as a part of their summer costs fundraising campaign and one lucky person who donated got to pick the perfect name. Over time, the Center has posted videos of Sulli playing and howling with his handlers. Regular followers on Facebook and Twitter have been able to watch him grow and there is certainly no doubt that this little guy is a coyote! Both playful and handsome, he has begun greeting visitors and is available for lifetime adoption. I cannot wait to get out and meet him next time I go through on a tour.

(The Conservators Center also gained another New Guinea Singing Dog named Mouse, as a friend for Tsumi, who had lost her companion earlier in the year.)

twitter post

Recent Twitter post from the Conservators Center

Keeping Animals Cool

This time of year is comfortable for the lions and some other animals who live at the Conservators Center and are used to a warm climate, but for the tigers, binturongs, and others, heat is not a condition they would regularly be familiar with. It takes a lot of work and effort to help keep these animals comfortable in the hot summer months in the southern state of North Carolina, where we don’t just deal with heat, we deal with humidity and heat indexes that can get over 105 on any given day. This is a time when the Conservators Center needs a lot of help in the form of donations.

Money raised at this time of year helps to pay for things such as outdoor fans, wading pools, shade cloths and hammocks, water hoses and reels, pest control, and all the bills that go with constantly running fans and changing the water in wading pools several times a day. There are so many things the Center needs at this time of year that donations are a real, true blessing, and one of the ways they are raising money is by selling paintings…

Animals and Art

From July 23rd through September 4th the Conservators Center is teaming up with the Alamance County Arts Council to produce an exhibit of over 50 pieces of art created by the animals at the Center. These aren’t just paw prints on paper, these are beautiful masterpieces, blending color and texture onto real canvases. How do they do it? The humans at the Center base coat the canvas with a safe tempera paint, let that dry, then add liquid paints enhanced with smells that the animals like (cinnamon, perfume, etc) and allow the animals to rub, sniff, and otherwise interact with the canvas as they would with an object in nature that stimulated their senses. Sometimes you get claw or tooth marks along with the prints from the fur, but that is all part of each animal’s interaction with their canvas. This is an enrichment activity that the humans are specially trained to administer and is fully enjoyable by the animals. No one is ever forced to paint and the activity has been going on for ten years now.

Typically the paintings go up for auction, but this year they are going on display, as well as being available for purchase through the Alamance County Arts Council. There are several pictures that were posted of this year’s artwork, but my personal favorite has to be “Introversions” by Ugmo Lion and Kira Lion. (I mean, come on. This is Your Pet Space, of course I’m going to show you artwork by a lion named Kira.)


Description of the art and artists by the Conservators Center website:

Ugmo Lion and Kira Lion are different in a lot of ways. Ugmo is enjoying her golden years; Kira is still in the prime of her life. Ugmo was rescued from a negligent breeding facility in 2004; Kira was entrusted to the Center by a reputable zoo. They even live in separate enclosures, but they have one thing in common: both of them live with an extrovert! Ugmo’s roommate, Kiara, is a social butterfly, quick to greet her favorite human friends and receive endless amounts of attention. And Kira’s roommate—Arthur, a white tiger—is the star of the Conservators Center. But Ugmo and Kira don’t mind. Most of the time, they can be found lounging in the back of their enclosures, looking on with soft smiles as their bright, unreserved roomies ham it up in the front. This painting is an exploration of the joy of introversion: the luxury of resting quietly in dark shadowy places, with no pressure to perform or act outside of one’s nature—and how wonderful it is to know you are just as valued and adored as your more gregarious counterparts.

Kira's paw

Kira Lion – wild paw at work. Photo by Taylor Hattori

The last of the major events that has happened at the Conservators Center was a surgery for Kiara Lion, who was slowly changing in her old age. Her temperament wasn’t what it used to be and the folks at the Center requested the help of Dr. Doug Ray from the Animal Hospital of Mebane. With the help of students from the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Doug performed a spay and exploratory surgery in order to be certain that her hormonal imbalance could be corrected and her emotional state set to the right place again.


Doug teaches Sarah about the anesthesia machine. It was donated by a dedicated group of Lifetime Adopters who wanted to ensure good surgical outcomes for our geriatric residents, who are the most at risk when we must administer anesthesia.

This is yet another example of the wonderful opportunities that the Conservators Center makes possible for education and outreach. It is because of this wonderful group that the Carnivore Team at NCSU were able to participate in a big cat surgery, and it is because of this same group that members of the community get to meet Kiara and all of the other animals that would normally be so far from us. For these things and so much more, many members of the animal kingdom and animal lovers everywhere are forever grateful.

The full story of Kiara’s surgery can be found on their website.

All images and image descriptions are used from the Conservators Center website, with permission on the condition that we give credit to photographers as was noted.

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 owned, 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

What Is Freedom From Panic?

july 4th lost pets

When we think of freedom for our pets, we imagine long, rolling fields of wildflowers where they can run freely, leaping about to their heart’s content.  We might even think of this happening without their collar being on. But freedom also implies the absence of fear, and the provision for freedom of choice.

The 4th of July is a celebration of freedom everywhere in the US.  Everywhere, often, except our own backyards and living rooms.  For our pets can feel anything but free from panic.  And we sometimes do not think about all the choices we might for how to alleviate this.

No one really knows how many pets flee in a panic from their homes during holidays like the 4th of July and Labor Day, where fireworks are present.  Animal shelters all over simply report that they are inundated with pets that panicked at the noise and fled their yards or homes, winding up lost, injured…or even killed.

scary fireworks

Tips to Keep Your Pet Safe On Fireworks Holidays

Keep your Pet Indoors–To you, fireworks might be the highlight of the summer–but to your pet, it can be terrifying.  Dogs never known to have jumped fences or walls,or ever have broken from restraint, can go to amazing lengths to get away when they are panicked.

Leave Your Pet at Home When Going To See Fireworks–Pets that are normally quite calm can become quite desperate to get away in crowds of strange people and smells, fireworks not withstanding.  And, as we know, leaving them in a car is not an option, either.


Another Choice For Pets

If you cannot keep pets comfortable at home or leave them home alone during holiday festivities, find a safe, secure boarding facility (preferably, cage-free) where they can have a lot of fun and never know anything happened.  This way, you can enjoy the holiday yourself, knowing they are being kept somewhere securely and are enjoying themselves.  And don’t forget that people often set off fireworks a day or so before–and after–the holiday.

NEVER Keep or Use Fireworks Around Pets–Most people realize pets can be injured by fireworks.  But did you know that even unused fireworks can be hazardous? Some fireworks contain potentially toxic substances such as arsenic, potassium nitrate, and other heavy metals.


Thundershirt Is Not A Person

Many pet owners have success with using the Thundershirt pressure wrap to calm their pets during storms as well as the fireworks holidays.  But it doesn’t work for all dogs…and you must follow the instructions on getting your dog used to wearing the device.  Noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, who helped develop the Thundershirt, has also stated that after about 20 minutes, its effectiveness diminishes.  So if an extended episode of noise is in the cards for your pet, this might not be the best option, even if it has worked for brief periods.

I read a story the other day of a woman simply hugging her dog during storms and fireworks–not restraining the dog, but offering brief, comforting pressure.  This worked so well that the dog would return to her when it was panicked, for more hugs!

So keep in mind…a thundershirt is not the same as having a human there to give comfort.  Pets absolutely know it is we that protect them.

dog with half moon eye

Signs of Panic in Dogs

  • One Paw Raised–cute, but denotes worry
  • Half Moon Eye (white of the eye shows in a half moon. Looks like the pic above.)
  • Displacement Behaviors (behaviors that substitute for panic aggression) such as:

yawning when not tired
licking chops without the presence of food
sudden scratching when not itchy
sudden biting at paws or other body part
sudden sniffing the ground or other object
wet dog shake when not wet or dirty

  • Avoidance Behaviors:

gets up and leaves an uncomfortable situation
turning head away
hiding behind person or object
barking and retreating
rolls over on back in submissive way

  • Other Behaviors:

tail between legs
tail low and only the end is wagging
tail between legs and wagging
tail down or straight for curly-tailed dog (husky, malamute, pug, chow chow, spitz-type dogs etc.)
ears sideways for erect eared dog
ears back and very rapid panting
dog goes into another room away from you and urinates or defecates

fireworks cat

Things To Know About Panic In Cats

A cat’s sense of hearing is far more acute than that of dogs and humans!  A cat can hear sounds up to 64,000 kHz.  By comparison, dogs can hear sounds up to 45,000 kHz, while humans hear sounds only up to 23,000 kHz.  For this reason, sounds are much more intense for cats.  Here are some tips for your cat:

Create A Hideout!–This can be a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy  nest in the back of the closet or bathroom, anything that feels like a cozy wild cat den.  If you can, notice the place they typically hide when they need to get away, and use that.  Shelter it from the noise and light coming in at windows, and get your cat to seek out this safe zone before fireworks begin. Stimulate positive feelings in this place with treats and cuddles.  You can even use catnip, as long as your kitty is the type that gets relaxed with it, and not hyper.  It’s also a good idea to turn on the lights around the house, which will help mute the flashes from fireworks.

Be Cautious With Adding Sounds–Sometimes, pet parents think if they turn up the TV or stereo so it’s louder than whatever’s going on outside, they can fool their pet into thinking they’re safe.  But the resultant noise is usually more stressful than helpful.  There is a variety of calming music for pets.  It’s a good idea to get your pet used to this special music at least a few days before you have need of it.  After a time, they will come to associate it with peace and calm.

Check these links to see what we recommend.

Through a Dog’s Ear

Through a Cat’s Ear.

Homeopathic Remedies–Feliway (cat appeasing pheromones), Spirit Essences, HomeoPet, and Pet Rescue Remedy are extremely helpful.  You can find these at most health food stores or animal supply stores.  Applying a few drops to their food, water, or directly into their mouths BEFORE the booms begin can do wonders for stress levels!  Essential oils such as lavender and valerian can also help with various anxieties. You’ll want to check with your veterinarian before using any of these, for their thoughts on what is best for your pet.

Signs of Panic In Cats

Body – crouched directly on top of all fours, shaking
Belly – not exposed, rapid breathing
Legs – bent
Tail – close to the body
Head – lower than the body, motionless
Eyes – fully open
Pupils – fully dilated
Ears – fully flattened back on the head
Whiskers – back
Vocalisation – plaintive miaow, yowling, growling or silent
Hissing, growling, shaking, drooling
Involuntary urination, defecation
Aggression if approached

We certainly hope this article has helped to give you some choices for your pet to keep them safe and relaxed during the summer holidays.  Please feel free to call or e-mail me at any time with questions and comments.

Joy Jones

Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is the Vice President of Your Pet Space, a cage free dog boarding facility serving the greater Las Cruces, NM area.  She is also a  syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave. 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.

Toby, the Curious Rat on Broadway

tony award winner

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time wins Best Play 2015.

What Does a Rat Have To Do With The Tony Awards?

The 2015 Tony Awards have come and gone. Hosted by Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, the evening celebrated a year in the theatre and many awards were given out from categories like lighting and set design to all of the usual “best” categories you come to expect with award shows. One show, The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time, took home Best Lighting Design, Best Scenic Design, Best Direction of a Play, Best Lead Actor in a Play, and Best Play, yet one of the cast is probably completely unaware of the hype. The reason for that is simple: she’s a rat.

The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time began as an award winning book by Mark Hadden, about a 15 year old boy named Christopher who has an unstated special need. Though one can assume he has a version of high functioning autism or something similar, the book is not about that condition specifically, it is actually a rather unusual murder mystery. Someone killed a dog in the neighbourhood and Christopher, a fan of Sherlock Holmes, is determined to solve the case. The book is written entirely from his point of view, which gives the reader a unique perspective on so many levels, but what made me pick it up was Christopher’s pet, a rat named Toby. I can’t resist reading a book with a rat as a character and I wasn’t disappointed with this one. Here rats are treated well and are deeply loved.

Alex and Toby

“How much does it cost to get a ticket to London?” (Alex and Toby)

When I heard that the play had cast a real, live rat I was shocked. I have friends in New York City and knowing the thought process up there, the first thing that went through my head was, “No one in the City is going to want to work with a rat!” In a way, that was true, even Lydia DesRoche was uncertain of rats when she got the job of training the one who would portray Toby. Still she soldiered past her fears and did some research, eventually rescuing a female who was destined to become snake food and casting her in the role of Christopher’s beloved pet. Over time working with the rat called Toby has helped change her opinions of these smart and entertaining animals and now, when you read interviews, you see the typical devoted rat owner and not someone who hears “rat” and immediately envisions something skittering in the subway while leaping into a chair. The same is also true of the cast, who were mostly anxious and unsure at first, but are now happy to be members of Toby’s extended family; happy to let her crawl on their arms and even get kisses.

What happened to Toby’s trainer is what happens to us all once we allow ourselves to really take a moment to learn about what a rat really is. Once we snuggle with that first rat, our lives are forever changed. “Without even trying, I have become a big advocate for pet rats,” explained Lydia, when I asked her to describe this transition in her personal experience with rats. “Sharing my experiences with them has prompted many of my friends to want their own rat(s). They are like tiny little dogs who can go everywhere with you.”

Toby and Watson

Toby photobombing Dr Watson, the puppy from Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time.

The similarities between rats and dogs can actually make training a little easier. Lydia uses the Behavior Adjustment Training method, which observes an animal’s behaviour and helps gently transition it into the action that is desired.  This sweet little white rat isn’t being forced to perform. She jumps willingly into her carrier when she hears the call “Five Minutes!” Her rewards don’t involve treats or snacks either. In observing her personality, DesRoche noticed Toby responded best to human interaction, so a job well done earns her introductions to new people. And when her big kiss scene comes up?  Well, sometimes she feels like doing it, sometimes she doesn’t, but she is always a crowd pleaser. Toby has fans from all walks of life and from all around the country.  Some are twelve, some are eighty, but all have fallen in love. In fact, it has almost become quite the thing for celebrities to come meet her after a show. Some of the more well-known visitors on her list include Whoopi Goldberg, Katy Perry, Allison Williams, Lupita Nyong’o, Sara Bareilles, Michael Urie, and Jason Biggs. Even Gloria Estefan recently tweeted a back stage photo she took with Toby after seeing the show.

When you think of casting, you generally think of finding that specific look that defines the character, but that wasn’t exactly what happened with Toby. The rat currently playing Toby is a smooth coated albino, while her understudy, Calvin, is a black and white rat with a curly coat. Toby was chosen first and a lot of research and thought went in to the decision. Lydia wanted a female because they had less smell to them, a statement I can confirm, as an owner of four adult males. (It’s not that they stink, but they can get territorial and that pee marking can get to be quite strong in a day or two!) When it came to color, it was the cast, crew, and audience that came to mind, not the character of Toby. “I chose a white rat because I wanted a rat that looked as different as possible from the rats we see in the New York City subway.  Ultimately it was the right choice but for different reasons. Being a female rat, Toby was very curious about everyone and everything around her. I think that her being white had the desired effect on most of the cast and crew. Almost everyone warmed up to her pretty quickly. I don’t imagine that happening had she looked more like a subway rat.” Now that everyone has come to know Toby the white rat, Lydia says that they have changed their minds about other rats as well. “Many of the cast and crew have commented to me that they have changed their feelings about subway rats.  Instead of running as far away as possible people have told me that they will actually watch the subway rats and find them interesting.” So it looks like Toby the black and white rat can feel safe in the knowledge that he is equally loved when his time comes to shine.

Calvin, Toby's understudy

Calvin, Toby’s understudy

Life as a rat on Broadway is hard work, between making appearances and all that training and time under the lights, but it has its perks too. Toby has her own dressing room (which she shares with the puppy who is also in the show) that is filled with all the wonders and toys a rat could dream of, as well as coffee and fresh roses. She also gets her own ride. “We travel to and from the theater by private car.  She likes to sit on my lap or my shoulder on the way to the theater. On the way back home Toby likes to sit on the driver’s shoulder and navigate. I always keep a hand on her to make sure she is safe.” Her safety is also considered on stage. If you ever see the cage get jostled, don’t worry. “They switch to a fake rat in an identical cage for any potentially dangerous scenes,” Lydia assured me. “One night one of the actors dropped the cage with the decoy rat in it. I made sure to bring Toby out to meet the audience after the show because I knew that there would be questions and I wanted to let everyone know that she had not been in the cage when it fell. There were lots of sighs of relief and chin scratches for Tobes.”

Toby in car

“Back to work. Tobes is all fired up. The day off is never long enough for me.”

As a rat owner I had to wonder what the actual audience response was to having a living, breathing rat on stage in a city like New York. I had images of front row ticket holders jumping up and running for the door as soon as Toby came out, but Lydia corrected that image for me. The occasional freak out comes mostly when someone thinks the rat is being harmed, but there are a few exceptions. “Once there was a woman in the front row who fell back in her seat every time Toby appeared on stage. More often than not there are lots of giggles and gasps when she does the kiss.”

Yes, that big kiss scene gets mentioned again. This came about from the folks at Curious on Broadway actually wanting to expand Toby’s role once they realized how clever and crowd pleasing her actress really was. Originally the associate director saw Toby running along Lydia’s arm and wanted to include that in the show, but although Lydia is certain the rat would not run off, others are concerned for what could happen if she were out of her cage. So, for now, her only out of cage stage-time has consisted of popping her head up and giving Alexander Sharp a little rattie kiss in one of the scenes. Not only does the audience love it, but it gives Toby a chance to be an ambassador for her species. “Recently a sophisticated older couple approached me and Toby after the show to tell me how much they enjoyed her performance and especially the little kiss,” Lydia recalled. “The husband said he had a rat as a child but had no idea they could be so open and friendly.”

best actor alex sharp

Alexander Sharp, winner of 2015 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.

Friendly, loving, curious… All words that rat lovers use so often to describe their fur babies, but up until this point one aspect of rat ownership has been left out. When I contacted Lydia about doing this interview, I had one major question burning at the back of my brain. We have had plenty of theatrical rats in our house, who love to play sick or pretend to be dead to get extra attention. I couldn’t help wondering how much does the rat that plays Toby actually do when it comes to theatrics? Did Toby react to the audience in any way? Was she as much of a character as our rats? “Sometimes when Alex [who plays Christopher] opens the cage she puts her little hands on the cage and scans the audience. I like to call it her ‘Evita’ move.  I’m not close enough to see whether she’s reacting specifically to the audience or just smelling around but she does love to greet her fans when she comes out of the stage door.” In this story I realized that Toby is quite happy to fall into the role of diva as well, as I got treated to a story of typical rat antics. “She has never played dead,” Lydia told me when I asked if Toby was a prankster, “but she has pulled all of her roses out of the vase so that she can steal my coffee while I’m cleaning up more than once.  I now make sure that my coffee is well out of reach when she is on the dressing room counter.”

Toby stealing roses

“Toby takes time to smell the roses.”

Falling in love with rats and their antics is something that the cast and crew of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time have mastered with flying colors. Everyone has taken a chance and everyone has come out a winner, with all that extra rattie love now warming their hearts. The distance between running from a subway rat and letting a pet rat scamper onto your arm is a huge one to cross and they have reached the finish line to a hero’s welcome from rat owners. In the not so distant future more rats named Toby will be cast to travel the country and begin introducing the sweetness and intelligence of rats to audiences beyond the Big Apple and London. These rats, their trainers and co-stars, are the ambassadors of the species, just as Lydia DesRoche is an ambassador for all people who used to be afraid. She told me she was converted when Toby gave her the same look that dogs give her when she meets them for the first time and “they know that I’m going to be their cultural liaison. I’ve always been a big fan of listening to animals before trying to tell them what to do.  The more I observed her and responded to her communication the more she was willing to tell me.” If more people get to meet Toby, one of her understudies, or a rat-actor traveling with the touring company, will they get the same message? So far, that seems to be the case. May it continue for many years to come.

Congratulations on your Tony, Toby. Theater is meant to touch people and with this show, you and your humans have definitely earned this award in many ways.

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 owned, 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

Staff Sergeant Reckless, A True Marine

In this day and age of technology, where tanks and drones have made combat much less personal, many have forgotten the times when horses, mules, dogs, even camels and birds served their country, putting their lives on the line, along with the soldiers who worked with them. Many assume that animals no longer serve alongside their human counterparts. It is for this reason, and because we are who we are here at Your Pet Space, that I would take this day to share a story with you about an animal who served her country. She was once famous enough to have television personalities begging for her to come on their shows, but now the horse who was a household name has begun to slip through the fog of fading memory. She is becoming a forgotten warrior from a forgotten war and it is my hope that this post will begin to change that. With no further babbling, it is my pleasure to introduce Staff Sergeant Reckless.

Reckless the horse with wire

Reckless loaded with a reel of communication wire.

Born in Korea and originally named Ah Chim Hai (Flame-of-the- Morning), Reckless started life as a racehorse, training at the Seoul Racetrack. When war began, her owner, Kim Huk Moon (a pseudonym used at the owner’s request to remain anonymous), found himself faced with a very hard decision. He could keep the horse that he so desperately loved, or sell her to the United States Marines for $250, money he desperately needed in order to purchase a prosthetic limb for his sister, who lost her leg when a mine exploded near her. In what must have been the most difficult choice he would have to make, he sold his horse, sending her on a journey that no one would ever have expected.

War began in Korea in 1950 and it didn’t take long for American troops to enter the fight on South Korea’s behalf. We were fighting against communism and we fought hard. At the war’s end in 1953 nearly 40,000 soldiers were killed and 100,000 wounded.  If you were to combine the losses of all soldiers and civilians from both sides, your count would reach nearly 5 million. As the battles raged, the Anti-Tank Company of the 5th Marines faced a serious problem. Terrain where they were stationed around Kamon-dong was steep and they were fighting with a recoilless rifle, which is basically a six foot long, 115 pound tube that sits on a tripod and fires 75mm shells. It was designed for use on the front lines and you would think that would make it easily portable, but the opposite was true. In the steep terrain in the area of fighting around Panmunjom, using a recoilless rifle was unbelievably loud, backbreaking work that required firing a few rapid shots, dismantling the rifle and hauling it to a new location before it was able to be targeted by incoming fire. In the icy Korean winters, trucks simply weren’t an option for moving the rifles up and down the inclines, so men carried the weapons and volatile ammunition on their own. It took several of them to do the job, often two would carry the gun, one would take the tripod, and the ammunition (each round measuring 4 and ¾ inches in diameter, 29 inches in length, and weighing 24 pounds) would go on the backs of the soldiers, typically two rounds per man and these rounds were live.

Reckless with rife and saddlepack

Reckless with 75mm recoilless rifle and pack saddle.

It was the commander of the platoon, Eric Pedersen, who realized a horse would make this work a lot easier and was given permission for the purchase. When Ah Chim Hai arrived the soldiers named her Reckless, after the recoilless rifle that she would carry. The men built her a bunker to standard specifications, covered her with a green Marine blanket at night and on the especially cold nights, allowed her to come into their tents and sleep by their stoves. She eventually became so familiar with the marines that she came and went into tents as she pleased, making them part of her herd.

Reckless withLatham

Reckless at Chang-dan, Korea, with TSgt. Joseph Latham, the Marine who put her through ‘hoof camp.’ A Seoul race pony, she thrived on bacon and eggs.” Caption courtesy the Saturday Evening Post.

Just like any soldier, Reckless was put through training. In “hoof camp” she was taught to step over wire, lie down, kneel, and shown how to take cover into a bunker when there was incoming fire. She wanted nothing but to please her new herd and she worked hard to learn all of these skills. Eventually she was fully capable of ducking and covering just like any human Marine in her platoon. They prepared her as much as possible for actual combat, but when the time came it was certainly hard on her. Even though she was carrying about 150 pounds at the time, Reckless jumped completely off the ground when she encountered her first taste of real weapons fire from the recoilless rifle. By the third blast she had calmed enough that she no longer flinched, but she sweated horribly, a sure sign that she feared for her life.  Still, under all of that stress, she and her handler delivered 5 loads of ammunition before the battle was over.

Reckless took part in many other battles and grew as accustomed to the noises as was possible for a Marine. (Though it has been noted she had nightmares, even after she retired and some Marines believed she was reliving those days the way she kicked and ran in her sleep.) New accommodations had to be built for her everywhere she went and at times her fellow Marines would throw their own flak jackets on her to protect her from incoming fire. Everyone did these things willingly, to protect one of their own who was fighting by their side. In these battles Reckless would repeatedly climb the steep terrain, carrying the ammunition for their rifles on her back. Over and over again she would take a running start and go as far as she could, pause, then move on when she was able. Often she made these trips on her own, with no one leading her. She made the choice to take the ammunition to the Marines and return again for another load, and she did it with all of the strength she had in her, sometimes from daybreak to sunset, all while carrying up to 144 pounds of live ammunition on her back.

Reckless on the Battlefield

Reckless on the Battlefield.

battle for outpost Vegas

It was the battle for outpost Vegas that she is best known for, a battle that is thought of as unequal to any other when it comes to the savagery of war. This was the defining battle of the Korean War, one that saw Reckless climbing a 45 degree incline at a trot or a gallop, desperately trying to maintain her balance with the extreme weight of the ammunition on her back. Some of the men were helping, but Reckless made two trips for every one of theirs and she carried eight rounds at a time. Through all of her fear at the incoming fire, Reckless never went slack on her duties, she charged up the hill again and again, ducking down with the Marines in their bunkers when enemy fire hit, then heading back down the hill once she was given the all clear. On occasion she was given a rest and rub down, taking some food and water, but for the most part, she continued on bravely, sometimes rescuing a wounded man from the fighting and carrying him down to safety only to be loaded with ammunition and head back up the hill immediately after.

It was on two of these trips that Reckless was wounded. On one climb up the hill, shrapnel cut her head, just above her left eye, and on another she was struck in her left flank, but like a true Marine, she continued on, wound and all. At the guns she was treated with iodine and sent back down for more ammunition. Again she went willingly, though by the end of the battle she was beginning to slow her pace. To quote the book by Robin Hutton, “No matter how tired she was, the mare with an almost incomprehensible sense of duty just kept going.”

In that one day Reckless made 51 round trips, carrying 386 rounds of ammunition, and walking more than 35 miles up and down that hill, most of the time on her own through heavy fire. Many marines talk about what an inspiration it was to see that small, Mongolian mare climbing the hills by herself, coming with everything they needed in order to continue to fight. She worked so hard and kept the men so well stocked that the barrel of one of the guns actually melted from use.

Reckless is promoted

Reckless is promoted to sergeant. On the platform (L to R: Gen. Pate, Capt. Andrew Kovac, Col. Elby D. Martin Jr. listen as MSgt. John Strange reads the citation. Standing beside Reckless are Sgt. Lively (L and TSgt. Dave Woods (R).

When the war was over, a campaign was started to bring Reckless to American soil. In her time in Korea Reckless had been officially promoted to the rank of Sergeant and had been given the appropriate ceremony for said promotion. This was not an honorary title, this was the real thing, as was befitting a marine who had earned two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with Star, a Navy Unit Citation, a National Defence Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal with three stars, a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and the French fourragere, awarded to the 5th Marines after World War I. She wore all of those decorations, and her sergeant stripes on her specially made red and gold blanket. At this time Reckless was a household name and when she finally came to her new home in America, she came home as a hero.

Reckless eats centerpieces

Who needs cake when there are carnations? Reckless eats the centrepieces. (Reception at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel).

There is so much more to say about Reckless; how she continued to work with the Marines at her new home in Camp Pendleton, how she attended official functions, made public appearances, and was promoted one last time to Staff Sergeant. In all of this time she was treated as a the true marine she was: some would salute her and no one that she outranked was permitted to lead her at official functions, as that would mean they were giving her orders. Reckless became a mother four times over, giving birth to three sons, two of which (PFC Fearless and Private Dauntless) were given ranks, while her third son Chesty became a trail horse. Sadly, her unnamed daughter died prematurely and all of her sons were gelded, so there are no grandchildren to carry on her bravery and determination to the next generation. All of these things (and many more) can be found in Robin Hutton’s book Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse. What I would like to conclude with is a note on how you can honor this brave marine.

reckless monument

Dedication of the Reckless monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center.

Robbin Hutton and others have fought for years now to bring the bravery and determination that was Reckless back into the public eye. In July of 2013 the Marine Corps finally unveiled a statue titled “An Uphill Battle,” a statue of Reckless created by Jocelyn Russell. The statue resides in the grounds at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Heritage Center in Triangle Virginia and contains in its base a small sample of the hero’s hair, installed there by Robbin herself. The statue came about through generous donations to the Sgt. Reckless Memorial Fund (including donations by Betty White and William Shatner), a process which continues to the day of this writing in order to install a memorial at Camp Pendleton.

I encourage everyone who reads this to pick up Robbin’s book and properly experience the life of Sergeant Reckless in a way I am unable to do here. I would give you a more in-depth review, but this story is about Reckless and I know Robin would want it this way. I will say that almost all of my knowledge of Reckless came from devouring the pages of her book.

Sgt. Reckless Book Cover

If you are so inclined, you can join the Sergeant Reckless fanclub on Facebook or go to the official webpage and make a donation to her Camp Pendleton Memorial Fund. On this Memorial Day, let us decorate the grave of a true Marine.

Thank you for your service, Staff Sergeant Reckless.

All photos and captions in this post come as printed from Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse and were contributions from the Author. I would like to thank Robin Hutton for her help in sharing this story with us.

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 owned, 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

Who Is The Beagle Freedom Project?

beagle freedom project logo

History of the Beagle Freedom Project

In December of 2010, Shannon Keith learned that beagles being used for animal experiments in a research lab were to be given a chance at freedom.  The mission for the Beagle Freedom Project was formed and they have been rescuing and re-homing beagles ever since.

Beagles for the research industry are generally obtained from commercial breeders, who breed them specifically for this purpose.  This breed of dog is known to be friendly, docile, trusting, forgiving–in short, perfect for lab use.  In addition they adapt well to cages and are fed inexpensively.

The Beagle Freedom Project legally removes beagles that are no longer used in testing and transports them to forever homes.

Beagle Freedom Project is a service of Animal Rescue, Media & Education (ARME). Founded in 2004, ARME is a nonprofit advocacy group created to eliminate the suffering of all animals through rescue, public education and outreach. ARME has found homes for thousands of homeless and abandoned animals. In 2004 ARME organized the first-ever “Shelter Drive” to provide creature comforts to homeless animals such as beds, toys and treats. ARME’s Shelter Drive became an annual tradition uniting volunteers with businesses that allowed drop boxes for donations. ARME also helps feed and shelter displaced animals when Southern California fires strike residential areas.

animal testing brands

Types of Testing Beagles Are Used For

Universities and research labs use beagles to test commercial products such as medicines and pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and household products.

Challenges In Adopting A Lab Beagle

As the greatest majority of these dogs have lived all their lives at either a breeding facility or a lab, they have never experienced meeting children, cats–even other dogs!  They are not house trained, but they learn quickly.  They have never seen grass…or felt the warmth of the sun.  They must adjust to a diet other than what they were provided by the lab.  They have never had treats, toys or soft beds, and may never have been on a leash.

At the lab, they may have had irritated or infected paws from living in a cage with a wire bottom.  They may be frightened and may haven been surgically de-barked at the breeder, with an ID number tattooed inside the ear (similar to greyhounds).  Adopters are given very little info about their beagle’s medical history.  The type of testing they were used for is usually not revealed.

However, the transformation of these dogs after they are freed is nothing short of amazing!

Projects In Process Now

Beagles are not the only animals used in laboratory research.  Many people are surprised to learn that cats are also, and many need adoption.

laboratory cat

The Identity Campaign

As a 501(c)(3) organization contributions to ARME are tax-deductible. To donate please see www.arme.tv.


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.

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


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.

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