Wild Cats in Carolina

Is the Carnivore Preservation Trust creating a genetic future for threatened species—or genetic junk?

  1. Lori Widener opens the gate of the 12-foot-high fence that surrounds the Carnivore Preservation Trust outside Pittsboro, North Carolina, and walks toward the home of her favorite resident, Scooter. “Where’s my boy?” she coos, peering into an enormous walk-in cage that holds two binturongs—Asian bear cats. Slowly, a whiskery black head with blond tipping pops out of a wooden den, and Scooter’s pupils contract as they adjust to the brightness. When Widener slips inside the cage, Scooter nuzzles her to mark her with his scent. Then he climbs her body and hangs from her neck by his muscular prehensile tail. Four years ago, when they were 2 weeks old, Scooter and his littermates were taken from their mother and given to Widener to hand raise in her trailer just outside the 35-acre compound’s fence. Four times a day, she bottle-fed the animals a specially prepared formula of milk substitute, vitamins, and bananas. Most of the cats stayed two months, but the anemic Scooter required a blood transfusion from his mother and ended up recuperating inside the mobile home for an additional four months. During that time he developed a laid-back personality that made him very easy for his keeper to handle. “He is not tame,” insists Widener, an energetic 38-year-old who wears her hair in three waist-length braids. “He is not domesticated. He is merely socialized.”

    Scooter certainly lives more comfortably than his wild cousins do in the rain forests of southeast Asia. Binturongs, a threatened...

Originally published in Discover, March 2001