Though tigers takes center stage in the facility's name, Carolina Tiger Rescue houses a variety of carnivores other than the biggest of the big cats, from caracals to servals, ocelots to bobcats, and even the lesser known binturongs and kinkajous.
Native to the Middle East and northern Africa, caracals are small, brownish-red animals colored to blend in with their environment. Their name is Turkish for black-eared and refers to tufts of dark fur on the tops of their ears.
"They think it's to attract birds," Geoff Horsfield, Carolina Tiger Rescue volunteer coordinator, said of the black spots. "These guys are excellent leapers and can jump up to 10 or 12 feet high in the air. They use their ears to attract birds, and when birds come down and investigate, they jump up and take down as many as they can."
Caracals usually run between 30 and 40 pounds but have the sharp claws, athleticism and ferocity to take down a 120-pound antelope. First, the small cats will attack the antelope's face to blind it before finishing it off. Caracals get most of their water from the food that they eat.
Though the species is solitary in the wild, caracals at Carolina Tiger Rescue—such as Bandit and Electra—can live together because they were born and raised in captivity.
"We're able to keep most of the animals here because they're either born here like these guys or they grew up with other animals," Horsfield said. "It's part of their enrichment."
Bandit and Electra were born at Carolina Tiger Rescue in 1997 about.
Ocelots are probably the best-know of the small cats largely because of their patterned fur coats. Strongly nocturnal, ocelots love to climb in trees and give of a notorious musty smell used to mark their territories.
The cats are native to Central and South America. They used to be native to the Southwestern United States, as well—in fact road kill indicates there may still be a small population remaining.
"With ocelots, he's got really pretty fur, that nice pattern," Horsfield said. "That's the reason why they're threatened, they're endangered. It takes about 30 to 35 ocelots to make one coat, and they typically only have about one kitten per year, so it really affects their population."
Trapper ocelot is 11 years old and was born at Carolina Tiger Rescue. He has a 360-degree enclosure—meaning the fence actually covers the walls as well as forming a ceiling—because ocelots have excellent leaping and climbing skills. In the wild, the cats live in the rainforest and hunt small rodents and mammals.
Trapper, like all spotted cats, has white spots on his hears.
"They think it's an early warning system for any young that would be following behind," Horsfield said. "He can drop the ears, and the young know that there's danger around. Or they can turn the ears 180 degrees and show them to other animals as a sign of aggression."
Trapper has an enclosure filled with balls and other toys for his enrichment activities. And Horsfield said staff occasionally sprays the cologne "Obsession" by Calvin Cline for the animals.
"That's their thing," Horsfield said. "Apparently ocelots really like 'Obsession' by Calvin Cline. I think scientists use it in the wild to attract them and study them at night."
Native to Africa, servals are very tall and very lanky, with long necks and large ears—all attributes that help them hunt and survive in the tall grass of their homelands. With better hearing than other small cats, servals typically use their keen ears to locate prey rather than their sight.
Servals can jump 3 to 12 feet in length 3 feet off the ground and can also leap 10 feet vertically to catch birds or insects. The small cats strike in about 1/60th of a second.
Their pale yellow pelt marked with black spots is often passed off as cheetah pelts, and their cute faces also makes them popular in the illegal pet trade. Servals are sometimes bred with domestic housecats to make savannah cats.
But though farmers often kill them in the wild because they tend to snack on chickens and small animals, servals play a crucial role in the ecosystem. One serval can kill about 4,000 rodents and about 1,000 poisonous snakes per year.
"They're such a great population control for rodents, for snakes," Horsfield said. "You can imagine if it weren't for servals, there would be millions more rodents in the world."
Two of Carolina Tiger Rescue's servals were born at the facility—Millhouse in 1996 and Loki in 1998.
Elvis the serval, however, was brought to the facility by former pet owners. He was dropped off in a cat carrying case with an attached note explaining that his name was Elvis and his owners loved him very much but could no longer take care of him. Keepers discovered he had atrophy in his hind legs from not getting enough exercise, was malnourished—despite being fed high-end exotic pet food, according to the note—and had marks on his face from rubbing against an enclosure.
"That's just an example of people who were well-meaning," Horsfield said. "They probably had animal care experience, were probably well-to-do if they could afford exotic cat food. But they just didn't have the knowledge, the resources, the capabilities to care for an exotic animal."
Binturongs, also known as Asian bear cats, are native to Southeast Asia and are neither bears nor cats. Covered in long, course fur with tufted ears, binturongs live mostly in trees and are excellent climbers.
"Binturongs are probably the most important species you've never heard of," Horsfield said. "They're one of two known animals in the ecosystem that process the strangler fig and let it pass through their system. The strangler fig is so hard that it can't germinate on its own. It has to pass through the system of the binturong in order to hit the ground and grow. And the strangler fig makes up a lot of the canopy of the rainforest."
Binturongs were the specialty of Dr. Michael Bleyman, Carolina Tiger Rescue's founder, back when the facility was called Carnivore Preservation Trust and focused on breeding wild animals. At one time, the Pittsboro organization had more binturongs than any other facility in the world.
Bobcats are very populated in 48 states as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. Typically, the cats hunt small mammals and rodents. They have naturally short tails and spotted ears.
Collins the bobcat came to Carolina Tiger Rescue from a private owner who had him declawed. He was sent first to Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary in western North Carolina, where they tried to match him with a female bobcat. The two didn't get along, however, and Collins moved to Pittsboro.
Carolina Tiger Rescue recently rescued a new bobcat, Maggie. Keepers aren't sure yet whether Maggie and Collins will get along—since both have been solitary all their lives—but Maggie will start in an enclosure with a shared wall to introduce them.
Carolina Tiger Rescue has three lions, two males and one female, all of which came from the Wild Animal Orphanage in Texas after it closed. The two males, Sebastian and Tarzan, don't have manes because they were neutered.
Sebastian came from a private owner in Texas who used him as a prop in his haunted house to scare people. One the owner died, he left Sebastian to his mother, who donated him to the Wild Animal Orphanage.
Sheba, the lone female lion, used to be a beach prop in Cancun as a cub. People would come and take pictures with her on the beach. She was also featured on animal planet and considered Carolina Tiger Rescue's celebrity. She came to Wild Animal Orphanage through organizations in Mexico.
Tarzan had a similar story, coming from a Mexican beach. A hotel used him to attract guests, enticing them to come in and play with their lion cub. When he became too difficult to handle, the hotel put him in a 3-foot-by-6-foot-by-3-foot enclosure in front of the hotel, where a tourist saw him and worked with local organizations to get him sent to the U.S.
Because female lions typically do the hunting and cub-raising in the wild, Sheba is much more active than her male counterparts, who tend to sleep 18 to 20 hours a day.