Q&A with Katie Cannon of Carolina Tiger Rescue

In the May 5th episode of Take-out Science, Katie Cannon, the education director at Carolina Tiger Rescue, joined us as we looked at hairs from some of their big cats. We asked Katie a few questions during and after the program; her answers are shared below. Watch the episode to see how big cat hair looks under the scanning electron microscope and learn more about the animals they came from.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Carolina Tiger Rescue

A: We are the only federally accredited wild cat sanctuary in North Carolina. We are also the only one that is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, so we don’t do any breeding of our animals here. We only rescue. We have…animals from across the United States. We’ve got animals that used to be privately owned. We have a tiger that’s left from a pair of tigers that were found on the side of the road outside of Charlotte, North Carolina when they were six months old. We have servals…that people thought were good pets and realized these are wild animals and shouldn’t be in the homes of private owners. And some of ours came from road side zoos or small zoos that only care about making money, not like our favorite Carolina Zoo. We currently have forty-nine animals of ten different species. We have more tigers than anything; we have 16. And they will stay with us the rest of their lives, so this is their forever home and they have nothing else they have to worry about the rest of their lives.

Q: How did you get the hairs that we looked at under the microscope?

A: From Nakobi the cougar, we got the hair when he passed away. We brushed a bit of fur off of him. And then for Mama, as she was new, we always do a physical on them, and to do that, we sedate them. So we never put our hands on our animals while they are awake. The only time we’re going to put our hands on our animals is if they’re sedated for a medical procedure. So we were able to get Mama’s fur from a physical. She had a lot of mats. She was overweight and unable to completely groom herself. So we had to pull some mats off of her with a furminator. We were able to grab that for her. And then for Riley [the tiger], we actually had to get it from his large horsehair brushes in some of the enclosures and I was able to, while they were in a different shift of their enclosure-again, we never go in with them-I was able to go over to the brush and pick just a couple hairs off of it.

Q: After learning that other big cats have tested positive for COVID-19, are you worried about your animals?

A: It’s definitely something that has added just a bit of extra chaos to all of this. So we are a little bit worried of course with the tigers in the Bronx Zoo and the lions in the Bronx Zoo testing positive. The good news is they’re all, if they have not already, are expected to make a full recovery and to be just fine. But to ensure that we do not unknowingly give our guys anything, we now wear masks around them. So when we’re within six feet of them or essentially anytime we go into the sanctuary we have masks on to make sure that we do not transmit anything to them that we may have. Yeah, so it is something that we’re a bit worried about. We are taking extra precautions to be sure that we keep them safe and to keep us safe as well.

Q: What do you feed the big cats? How much do they eat?

A: We primarily feed chicken. All our cats are on a whole carcass diet, meaning we feed bone and all, which is what they would eat in the wild. Our largest tiger, Caprichio, eats about 18 pounds of food on feeding days.

Q: Can the animals ever return to the wild? Why or why not?

A: Our cats can never return to the wild. Except for 2, they have never lived in the wild and though they maintain their wild instincts, they are too used to humans and do not know how to hunt effectively and efficiently to survive.

Q: What are the animals favorite things to do at the sanctuary?

A: Eat and sleep! The animals love eating and napping the day away. Cats in general sleep up to 16 hours in a day, lions actually sleep up to 20 hours in a day. The weather right now is perfect to napping in a sunny spot.

Q: How do animals typically find their way to your sanctuary?

A: Most of our animals either came from private owners who realized it was too dangerous to have them or roadside zoos that were closed down.

Recently, Katie spoke with WRAL about the Netflix Documentary, The Tiger King, to explain how the show missed an opportunity to discuss the suffering and exploitation of big cats. To hear this interview, visit the WRAL website.

Please reach out to us if you have any other questions for Katie about Carolina Tiger Rescue and their animals.