Have you ever met a binturong?
Crowds fawned over the Conservators Center’s biggest binturong boy, Jerry, on Saturday, Jan. 27, as the center celebrated its eighth annual Tree Toss, an event where Cranberry Tree Farm gives their unsold Christmas trees to the more than 70 animals in captivity as a form of “enrichment.”
Jerry soaked up the attention, slowly sniffing the tree placed in his enclosure as guests reveled in seeing the species up close for the first time.
Is it related to the sloth family? Does it make noise? What does it eat?
“This is an opportunity for people to see animals they otherwise don’t even know exist,” said Julia Wagner, the center’s assistant director. “We are one of the few locations in this state that has binturongs. They’re just not something you see on display. It’s unfortunate because they’re really cool animals, and I’d say they’re a testimony to our feeling that just because an animal isn’t big and flashy and fancy, it doesn’t mean that they’re not important, and once you spend time with them, you start to realize just how important they are.”
While the center is famous for its lions and tigers, the smaller animals are equally celebrated and loved by staff and volunteers, who relish the opportunity to educate guests about more obscure species.
“I feel like we probably make more binturong converts here than anything,” Wagner joked.
The Tree Toss is their largest event, ushering in more than 400 patrons over two days.
Prior to the gates opening, guests are invited to Arthur’s Toy Shop, named for the center’s only white tiger, to paint and decorate cardboard boxes, egg cartons and wrapping paper tubes that will be sprayed with scents ranging from Axe body spray to boar urine for extra appeal.
As Muraco, the baby bobcat, jumps into a brightly colored cardboard box to play, one mother in the crowd leans down to her daughter to say, “Look, he’s in your box! He’s quickly destroyed your box.”
Across the park, Roland and Trekkie Monster, the gray wolves, are treated to a snack from the Porchetta food truck stationed on the grounds. They literally wolf it down.
It’s clear to see the animals are well-cared for and happy, which is something Wagner says the public doesn’t always understand.
“It is a challenging time to run a zoo because there is a lot of misunderstanding about, fundamentally, what the role of these organizations is in the wider picture of conservation, and it is very unfortunate that at a time where the work of the zoological industry is the most critical, we’re finding that there’s a lack of understanding from the public about what the scope of functionality is. That’s something we have to change,” Wager said. “If people do not see these animals, learn from these animals and develop a bond with these animals, they have no motivation to support them in their own habitat.”
Between the Greensboro Science Center, the Museum of Life and Science, the Duke Lemur Center and the North Carolina Zoo, Wagner says, the Piedmont is an “amazing mecca for wildlife lovers,” and there is a responsibility in that.
So, as the animals jump, play, sniff, and lick whipped cream off den boxes, the center’s docents answer questions, provide facts, and demonstrate their day-to-day interactions with the animals to provide insight.
By the end of the four-hour event, Arthur Tiger is sprawled out by his water bowl, eyes drooping with the kind of food-and-family-induced exhaustion you experience after Christmas dinner, and another crop of the county has learned a little bit more about why the Conservators Center is needed.
Reporter Jessica Williams can be reached at [email protected] or at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.
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