Do you know what a binturong is (or that they smell like Fritos)? Have you ever gotten so close to a lion pride that you could tell the females apart just by their noses? I do and I have because I’ve developed a personal and professional relationship with an organization called Conservators’ Center in north central North Carolina. Conservators’ Center is a USDA-regulated nonprofit organization that preserves threatened species, including showstopping big cats like lions, tigers, leopards as well as smaller, lesser-known (but ecologically important) animals like servals, caracals and binturongs.
I’ve spent many hours at the Center hanging out with my adopted lioness Ugmo, who was so beat up in her prior circumstances she looks like a prize fighter (happily, with the Center’s care, she is now a sweet old girl who likes to hug the trees in her enclosure and sleep on her back). I also spend a lot of time there professionally, working with the Center as a community partner in service-learning publishing classes I teach. To date, my students have worked with the Center to create a children’s book and a coffee table book that are sold in the gift shop, and have done a comprehensive research study that contributed to an overhaul of their growing and successful tour program.
Honestly, I’ve been trying to get the Kappa Zeta chapter at Elon to adopt an animal at the Center for a couple of years now. It’s not directly related to Inherit the Earth, but how cool would it be to do environmental projects while hanging out with lions rather than picking up litter along the highway? And imagine how the combination of supporting Alzheimer’s and a tiger (!) would play at philanthropy day during recruitment. Seriously, who doesn’t want a tiger?
As part of my plan to get Kappa Zeta to adopt an animal and my continued efforts to connect the collegiate chapter with the Triangle (Raleigh/Durham) Alumnae Chapter, VPAR Maria Gardell and I organized a Sigma Kappa day at the Conservators’ Center. We organized a private tour of the animals and a picnic lunch for collegiates, alumnae and families on a beautiful October day.
We arrived at the Center and for a while it was like a junior high dance – Kappa Zetas on one side and alumnae on the other. For the most part, I’m the only person active in the alum chapter that the KZs know. And we didn’t have much time for introductions while we were filling out the (really important and absolutely necessary) “I promise not to stick my arm in an enclosure or act like prey while I’m on the tour” forms. Leave it to the little kids to break the ice though. Some of our little legacies can be quite charming!
Broken up into two mixed groups of alumnae and collegiates, we took a nice long tour around the grounds to meet the animals. Because of my class work with the students, I’ve been on that tour at least 20 times. But it’s always fun to watch new people take the tour. The tour guides do an amazing job of telling each animal’s personal story while still getting across important conservation messages about the different species. For example, Oliver Binturong is a charming but shy guy who is so happy in his new enclosure back in the woods and off the tour path that he has adopted some stray black kittens who hang out with him regularly. You’ve probably never seen a bint in a zoo because, frankly, they aren’t that sexy. But without binturongs, a keystone species, parts of the Asian rainforest canopy would completely die out causing ecological devastation.
The sisters were charmed by Oliver and his friends, awed by the mixed pride of lions and tigers who grew up together and don’t know they are different species, and enamored with Arthur Tiger, a white tiger who is the star of the show. (No, really, he has his own Facebook page with over 3000 friends. Look him up.)
So what’s this got to do with t-shirts? Well, nothing. I did design a t-shirt for the event, but we didn’t have enough time to execute it. I hope we can repeat this great event in future years. It was a fun bonding event to introduce the alum and KZ, but it was also a lesson. It’s important to find causes you believe in to support, and I enjoyed watching my alumnae friends teach their children about conservation and see the KZs realize that tigers might die out in the wild within a generation. Our sisters and little legacies are going to inherit this planet, so what can we do to make sure it’s still an amazing place filled with creatures like Arthur and Oliver when they are adults?
And, hey, Kappa Zeta…about adopting that tiger…call me.
This post was written by Rebecca Pope-Ruark. Contact Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org
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