I live in the North Carolina piedmont, just outside the state capital, Raleigh. I always figured that if I wanted to see a tiger I either had to drive over to the NC zoo, deliberately but inconveniently for me located in the exact center of the state at Asheboro, or buy a plane ticket to Africa or Asia. I was wrong.
Last month I learned that there were tigers no further away than my chiropractor (admittedly my wonderful chiro is in Pittsboro, a good 40 minutes drive, but still). So, how come there are tigers just 35 miles from downtown Raleigh? They are there because they are living at Carolina Tiger Rescue, a non-profit wildlife sanctuary, where the loving care may ease if not erase their memories of previous sub-standard living conditions. With the tigers so close, I rounded up some friends and half a dozen of us met at the preserve for the 10:00 am tour on June 1st.
I grew up close to one of the first “open” zoos – Whipsnade – and have always been uncomfortable with urban zoos with smaller enclosures, so I was a bit worried about the conditions I would find. I was also worried about the weather, with a predicted high for the day of 88. No need. While it was too hot and humid for me in the sun by the time we finished, it was still pleasant in the shade, and although the enclosures weren’t as big as I might have liked, they were infinitely better than those I saw last year in Buenos Aires, or previously in Beijing or Budapest, and much better than the horrible conditions some of the animals had endured as pets or marketing attractions.
Our tour group was taken round by two volunteers, who were full of interesting information. We learned, for instance, that in NC it is perfectly legal to own exotic animals, such as lions and tigers, as pets, but not native animals like squirrels or deer. We also learned that the rare white tigers are not albino “sports” but the product of drastic inbreeding.
Although the tigers may be the stars, there are other animals in residence, including several lions, some charismatic smaller breeds, and a couple I had never heard of: binturongs and kinkajous.
Used to be, when I drove over to see my chiropractor, I would eat lunch on the way back at Daniel’s, enjoying grape, pear and blue cheese salad with chicken, and a cup of their admirable seafood bisque. But recently I discovered Oakleaf, in Pittsboro itself. I still eat lunch at Daniel’s every so often, but when I drive to Pittsboro I eat at Oakleaf – I was so impressed with lunch there I was moved to write a review. So, naturally, we stopped at Oakleaf after visiting the animals, for their weekend brunch. Unfortunately, while the food was pretty good, the service was anything but, and I’ll probably be writing another, less flattering review. Still, it was a good outing, and I recommend a visit to the Tiger Rescue if you’re in the area (you need to book your tour ahead of time).