Big cats and other animals enjoy tree toss event

On Saturday, January 13, Conservators Center residents, including Ra Lion, enjoyed live Christmas trees during the annual tree toss event.

Every dog may have his day, but Saturday was for the cats – the big cats that is. January 13 marked the ninth annual tree toss event for the Conservators Center.

“This is a time that we’re able to welcome the community out to see our animals in a little bit more casual way than we normally do when we have our normal tours,” said keeper Michelle McKay. “We are able to bring in Christmas trees and we offer guests a time to decorate boxes, wrap or paint them – which the animals love the paint smells – then our zookeepers go and place all the items into the enclosures. Then once our guests come into the park, we’re able to open and let the animals into their main areas where they’re able to interact and tackle the trees and smell them.”

Each year, the Conservators Center offers leftover live Christmas trees (donated from Cranberry Tree Farm) and other gifts to their many residents. Prior to the event, guests are able to decorate their own cardboard boxes on site to be given to the animals. These gifts, better known as enrichment items, are often covered with whipped cream and other treats to entice the Center’s various animals to come out and play, giving guests a chance to see them up close and personal.

“We put whipped cream on everything, because everybody knows that whipped cream is an animal’s most favorite treat in the whole wide world, at least they are for big cats,” laughed McKay. “Our mission here is to reconnect people with wildlife and I don’t think there’s anything better than getting to see these guys five feet away, interacting with all these enrichment items and having the time of their lives.”

The Center is home to 80 animals representing 20 species – including nearly two dozen big cats. “So we have everything from lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, dingos, New Guinea singing dogs – which is an extremely rare animal – to other small cat species as well as lemurs and binturongs, artic fox and fennec fox, so we have a large variety,” McKay explained

This year, more than 250 guests filled the wildlife park to see residents like Ra Lion (pictured), Arthur Tiger and leopard siblings Ramsey and Savannah. “We hope that people will take away just the magnificence of these animals, just how inspiring and how unique of an experience we have so close,” said McKay. “A lot of people don’t even realize that we are here – we’re kind of this golden nugget just over into Caswell County. It’s just something that families don’t realize is here, but once they come they’re just amazed, and they fall in love just like all of us that work here have.”

The Center will host one more tree toss event for this year on Saturday, January 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Local food truck Porchetta will be on hand for refreshments and adult beverages will be provided by Mystery Brewing and Mebane’s own Iron Gate Winery. Admission ranges from $20-$26 per person and tickets can be purchased in advance. Space is limited for the event.

The Conservators Center is located at 676 E. Hughes Mill Road in Burlington. For reservations to next week’s tree toss event or other tours, check out their website at The Center can also be reached by phone at 888-650-1139.

For more photos and video of this year’s tree toss event, be sure to check out our website at