Our Story

Frequently Asked Questions

What would you like to know about the Animal Park at the Conservators Center?

Thank you for your interest in the Animal Park at the Conservators Center, its mission, and its residents. Please see the list of frequently asked questions below. If you don’t see an answer to your question, give us a call at 336-421-0883. We welcome the opportunity to connect with members of the public and discuss our work.

If you’re interested in joining us for a tour, see the Plan Your Visit page for more information on each of our public and private tours, special events, and group offerings.

1What is the Animal Park at the Conservators Center?
The Animal Park at the Conservators Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit independent zoological park in North Carolina that houses more than 20 species of exotic animals. This includes about 20 big cats (lions, leopards, and tigers). The Animal Park at the Conservators Center supports wildlife conservation through education and raising public awareness of rare and endangered species.
2What is your mission?
The Animal Park at the Conservators Center believes in educating people, caring for animals, and advocating for species. The Park's animal residents serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts: You are more likely to become invested in these species after you meet them and learn about their inherent value. Looking a tiger in the eye, hearing lions call to one another, howling with wolves, and meeting a binturong for the first time will forever change your perspective. You protect what you know.
3How long has the Animal Park at the Conservators Center been open?
The Animal Park was founded in 1999 and moved to its current location in Caswell County, NC, in 2001. We opened to the public for tours in 2007 as a means to fulfill our educational mission, and as a way to fund continuing improvements for the high-quality care we provide our residents. Guests visiting for educational programming are a critical source of support for our animal population.
4Do you have access for visitors with disabilities?

We at the Animal Park welcome all guests, and while our Visitors Center is ADA compliant, our tour path is not wheelchair-accessible. The following is provided to assist you in your planning and visit:

  • The Visitors Center area, including patio, gift shop, Education Room, and restrooms, is ADA accessible.
  • A cement parking area adjacent to the Visitors Center is provided for the first two guest vehicles with disability plates or placards.
  • Our outdoor tour path is gravel and dirt, and is not safe for wheelchair use. Instead, we offer complimentary seating on golf carts for mobility-impaired guests. Please call 336-421-0883 to reserve at least 5 days in advance to ensure availability; we are not able to guarantee cart and driver availability unless reserved in advance.
  • Please note the weight limit of our carts is 350 pounds for all guests and driver.
  • Guests joining a tour via our golf cart will have the option of using the rear-facing bariatric-sized bench seat or a single-person forward-facing seat.
  • Guests may not operate Animal Park golf carts.
  • Only Animal Park golf carts are permitted to operate on the premises. (No other personal motorized vehicles are permitted.)
  • Our tours provide a unique multi-sensory experience, with views of our animals often as close as five feet, and the sounds and smells of animals surrounding you. Our lions in particular can be quite loud with their enthusiastic greetings! If you have vision, hearing, or sensory concerns that you would like your tour guide to be aware of, or any questions about the nature of the tour, please contact us at tours@animalparknc.org.
  • Service animals are not permitted on tours, but may wait with an adult at our picnic shelter during your tour.
  • Companion and emotional support animals are not permitted on the property.
  • We do not permit any animal to be left in a vehicle on Animal Park property while a guest is on a tour.
5Can I bring my pet?
For safety reasons, the Animal Park does not allow visitors to bring pets on site. Any visitor who brings an animal to the Park will be asked to leave immediately. We do not allow visitors to leave animals unattended in a vehicle at any time of year.
6Where does your funding come from?
The Animal Park at the Conservators Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The income we receive from educational programming, Lifetime Adoption, partnerships with local businesses, donations, and occasional grants is critical to being able to provide a high quality of care for our animal residents.
7Are you an AZA accredited facility?
No. We respect the work performed by the AZA and believe they do an admirable job of facilitating the mission and work of their institutions. They also work to manage the very limited gene pools of species under their Species Survival Plans® (SSPs). We work with facilities around the world to help manage a few of the thousands of species not included in the AZA’s breeding program, so while we are not officially affiliated with the AZA, we consider our work to be complementary, as we are helping to manage populations not currently in their purview.

Like any industry, the community of exotic animal owners is highly interconnected, so we exchange animals with AZA institutions, we have staff who are members, and members of our leadership team attend conferences and are members of AZA-sponsored working groups.

AZA accreditation requires that many resources be allocated toward areas beyond just those that impact the safety of the public and the welfare of the animals. While the physical appearance of a facility is important—and the visitor experience is shaped by that appearance in many ways—facilities with more-limited income must carefully choose how to allocate their resources. Most smaller zoos opt for simpler landscaping and basic signs and graphics, and often offer equally effective exhibits that do not showcase multi-million-dollar rock backdrops and water features.

An accrediting organization is not the same as a regulatory agency. Accreditation from an organization requires that a facility meet certain standards, usually across several areas of the business. The goal is generally to ensure the accredited business is engaged in standards of practices intended to provide for the sustainability and positive public perception of the business. Some accrediting organizations focus solely on encouraging best practices in public safety and animal welfare; others seek to ensure a certain level of organizational ethics, public appearance, and positive experience for visitors; and still others include a thorough assessment of the business model and financial concerns.

No matter what accreditation we may seek, the focus for us will always be on developing our business model to create a sustainable business, support best husbandry practices, and make smart population management decisions based on the needs of our facility and the species under discussion. Until we choose to apply for any accreditation, we will continue to meet (and often exceed) the standards put in place by the USDA for all facilities open to the public that house exotic animals, regardless of accreditation.

8Who founded the Animal Park at the Conservators Center?
The Animal Park was founded by two avid wildlife specialists, Mindy Stinner and Douglas Evans. Mindy and Doug have decades of experience with carnivore management and founded the Animal Park at the Conservators Center together in 1999.
9Where do the animals at the Animal Park at the Conservators Center come from?
Our animals come to us from a variety of situations. Many were very loved and well cared for at their previous homes but simply needed a different living situation. Some were retired to us from other reputable zoological programs. A handful of our smaller cats were owned by individuals who entrusted us with their care when their circumstances changed. Additionally, some of our much older animal residents came to us from dire negligent circumstances, or as an alternative to euthanasia. As much as we are proud that we have, in the past, served as a home of last resort for animals that required emergency placement, we are so grateful that the need for emergency placement has greatly diminished in recent years.
10How many people does the Animal Park at the Conservators Center employ?
The Animal Park at the Conservators Center has a small staff of about 15 full-time and part-time employees. We depend heavily on the work of our dedicated volunteer corps who help provide for our animals by working in all departments of the organization.
11As a nonprofit, are you considered public or private exotic animal owners?
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are an incorporated entity that maintains ownership of our property and our animal residents. We receive no public (taxpayer) funding for operational expenses, and are—legally speaking—the private owners of the animals in our care. Even if an organization does receive a portion of its income through taxpayer support, it is still considered a private owner if it maintains ownership of its animals, rather than the government entity that is providing the funding.

There are many areas where complex arrangements like public-private zoo partnerships and loan or lease arrangements (very common and accepted practices across the entire scope of the managed wildlife community) with specific animals for breeding, education, companionship, etc. complicate the matter of which animals are owned “privately” and which are owned “publicly.” In these types of instances, careful analysis of the nature of the entity owning the animal and the composition of an entire animal collection would be required to ascertain the type of ownership under which each animal falls.

12Don’t these animals belong in the wild?

Unfortunately, “the wild” is disappearing with increasing rapidity. Humans have eliminated much of the natural habitat that these species should call home by reallocating the use of the land for farming, ranching, and other activities, and there have been precious few successful wildlife reintroduction programs. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that humans can, we hope, make the wild a safe place for these species again. If that reality comes to pass, the Animal Park at the Conservators Center will be one participant in what will hopefully be a large, collaborative network of organizations supporting strong, healthy managed genetics. But until then, it is critical that we maintain a healthy, carefully managed population of these species in human care, so that when (and if) the time is right, we have individuals representing a variety of different species from separate, coordinated gene pools to reintroduce to protected natural habitats. Should that reality never come to pass, then managed populations in human care will ensure these species remain in the future, even if we relentlessly destroy their natural habitats.

At the Animal Park at the Conservators Center, we unapologetically believe that animals being cared for appropriately in managed facilities is infinitely better than losing entire species to extinction.

13What is your tour path like?

Our tour path is about 3/4 of a mile and is surfaced with crushed rock and gravel. For safety reasons, we cannot allow children's wagons in the park, and we encourage child sling carriers over strollers.

14What should I wear?

The Animal Park is a mostly outdoor facility that was built, first and foremost, with the care and well-being of our animal residents in mind. We have an unpaved, gravel tour path that is about 3/4 of a mile, and you may be walking in muddy areas. Open-toed shoes or heels are not recommended. Please check the weather before your visit, and dress appropriately for the temperature.

15Can I take pictures or video?

Yes! We encourage you to bring your camera. If you want to capture images at an even closer range, without visible fencing, consider scheduling a Photo Safari with an experienced escort who will take you to places you cannot go on other types of tours.

16Will I get to touch an animal?
Guests are not permitted to touch or handle our animals at any point on their tour. We are serious about safety; any visitor who touches or makes an attempt to touch any of our animals will be asked to leave without a refund.
17Can I walk around on my own?

The Animal Park at the Conservators Center was created, first and foremost, to meet the needs of our residents. You will see wild animals up close (as little as 5 feet away). That means we always require guides or docents to ensure the safety of our residents and our guests. Also, our tours are fun! You will learn a lot from your guide, who has been specially trained to lead your tour, share great stories, and answer your questions.

We periodically offer Self-Guided Safari days and other events that allow you to wander our facility at your own pace and talk to docents stationed throughout the park to ensure safety and answer questions. Check our website and social media accounts for dates.

18What do you do if there's bad weather?

Our tours are rain or shine; we do not generally cancel for light rain, and we have umbrellas for loan. However, in the event of dangerous weather, we will do our best to determine whether tours will be cancelled 24 hours prior to the start time. If you have a reservation, you will receive an email and a phone call/voicemail via the contact information you provided. In the event of cancellation, you may transfer your reservation to an alternate day. Tickets are non-refundable.

We appreciate your understanding that you will need to keep an eye on the forecast and dress for potentially unpredictable weather when you visit us.

19Are tickets refundable if I missed my tour?

We are NOT able to refund ticket purchases.

20Do you have public restrooms?

Restrooms are available at our Visitors Center. We do not have scheduled bathroom stops during our tours, but if you need to step out, let your guide know and we can accommodate you.

21Do you offer discounted or free tours to support my school/church/other group's raffle or fundraising efforts?

The Animal Park at the Conservators Center is a nonprofit organization. In order to provide high-quality care for our residents, we depend on every dollar we earn through our award-winning tours and programs. We appreciate your understanding that we are therefore unable to provide free tour tickets.