Carolina Tiger Rescue planning annual fundraiser

Jan. 28, 2013 @ 08:46 AM

Rajaji, one of 12 tigers that the Carolina Tiger Rescue cares for, sits huddled in some brush in his enclosure. “This is his stalking behavior,” Pam Fulk, executive director of the rescue, said during a tour. “He thinks you can’t see him. He’s hoping one of us will turn our back, and then he’ll say, boo!
“Translation: I would eat you if I could,” Fulk said. During this tour, however, Rajaji, or Raj, does not pounce. He “chuffles,” or makes a friendly greeting, to Fulk and Ruth Stalvey, president of the Carolina Tiger Rescue’s board.
His friendliness does not detract from one of the lessons the rescue center wants to get across to visitors who tour the facility: These are wild animals, not pets. Stalvey said there is “a huge misconception of the nature of these animals.” Some people believe that if they raise a tiger or wild cat from a young age, it will become attached to them. While a tiger may develop an attachment to a human, the cat is still wild and there is always the chance that “you may be lunch,” she said. “We are trying to convince the public that tigers do not make good pets,” Stalvey said.
Human intervention, both bad and good, is part of Rajaji’s story and that of about 70 wild cats who live at the rescue. Originally, he belonged to a private owner in Virginia. He did not receive proper nutrition, and a private zoo near Wake Forest nursed Raj back to health and cared for him. When the zoo went out of business, Carolina Tiger Rescue stepped in and provided a home for Raj.
According to its vision statement, the Carolina Tiger Rescue works toward the day when individuals do not own wild cats, when cats are not used for entertainment, when no commercial trade exists for cats or their parts, and cats prosper in native habitats. In pursuit of those goals, the center rescues wild cats, provides them with sanctuary, conducts “non-invasive” research, and advocates for keeping cats in their natural habitat, or, when that is not possible, humane treatment in captivity.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 tigers are privately owned in this country. By contrast, an estimated 3,200 tigers live in the wild worldwide.
To help with its mission, Carolina Tiger Rescue will hold its annual Black Tie and Tails Ball on Feb. 23. This year the organization has set a goal of $85,000. In addition to funds for general maintenance and care, this year ticketholders can bid on a fundraiser called the “Extreme Makeover: Sanctuary Edition.” The money raised from that auction will be used to purchase a tractor, several mowers and other equipment for habitat maintenance.  
Unlike Raj, Collins, a bobcat, came to the rescue by a different path. North Carolina has no laws prohibiting ownership of wild cats, but it does have a statute prohibiting ownership of native species. Collins came to the rescue as a result of that law, Fulk said. Because his owner also de-clawed him, Collins will be at the rescue center until he dies, Fulk said.
Elvis, one of  three servals (an African cat) that the rescue cares for, was left in a crate at the center’s doorstep. His people left a note stating, “Please don’t judge us, we took good care of him,” Fulk said. Still, Elvis had collar marks on his neck, and his back legs had atrophied from lack of exercise, Fulk said. The staff at the rescue worked with Elvis and gave him a place more in keeping with his natural habitat.  “As you can see, he’s a big, healthy boy,” Fulk said.
Jellybean, a white tiger, likely would have been destroyed because his handlers did not consider him “show quality,” Fulk said. Breeders will often in-breed tigers with the white gene to get a desired coat quality. That practice not only leads to more orange tigers needing homes but also produces genetic disorders, according to the center’s website. Many tigers in the white tiger trade get destroyed each year, “so it’s a nasty industry,” Fulk said.
One of the center’s missions is to educate people about how the demand for wild cats as pets and for entertainment drives the need for rescue sanctuaries. Someday, if the trafficking can be stopped, wild cats can live in their natural habitats.
“We’re putting money into caring for these animals that should go into” preserving their natural habitats, Fulk said. “It’s not their fault that they were put in our culture,” and they deserve humane treatment from the people who put them in jeopardy.


Go and Do
WHAT: Carolina Tiger Rescue Black Tie & Tails Ball
WHEN: 7 p.m., Feb. 23
WHERE: Washington Duke Inn, 3001 Cameron Blvd., Durham
ADMISSION: Tickets are $110 per person, $125 after Jan. 31. To purchase, call 919-542-4684 or visit