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  • Writer's pictureBriana Halliwell

The Renewal of a Beloved Building

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

Seventeen years. The field kitchen at the Conservators Center has undergone numerous transformations since its haphazard construction nearly two decades ago in the cool fall of the turn of the century. The small, narrow 12’ x 20’ shed was the first structure constructed on the property, making it the true beating heart of the Center. The field kitchen has controlled a plethora of functions for much of its long life, acting as the heart, lungs, skeleton, and skin of the Conservators Center body for many years. The quaint building originally housed the Center’s first two primate residents, our co-founders Mindy Stinner and Doug Evans, years before any of our ambassador species of lions, tigers, and bearcats (oh my!) were exhibited on public display.

Mindy and Doug spent many moons living under the roof of what was to become the pinnacle location for all things Animal Care, bucketing water in the pipe-freezing winters and trudging downstream to a lone-standing outhouse when nature called. Not only was the modest trailer home to our founders, it also served as the sole food preparation station, dishwasher, laundromat, medical supply closet, office, and quarantine quarters for sick or injured animals. According to Mindy, living and working out of such an insubstantial space for nine months served as an invaluable lesson in patience, determination, and unconditional love and forgiveness, qualities that are still upheld at the Center today.

A mosaic of memories have been cultivated in the infamous field kitchen which acted as our co-founders’ humble abode for many a withering winter and sweltering summer. Generations of animal keepers, volunteers, interns, and staff have flooded and vacated the moderate space, crowding one another and laughing gleefully as they played bumper butts while attempting to scooch through the increasingly narrow gap between the “middle table” and the refrigerator. The middle table, where diets for all of the small cats are prepared, often undergoes a series of adjustments throughout the day, being pushed this way and that, forward and back, much like a man with a protruding belly will shove the table towards his dining partner whilst wriggling into the seat of the booth.

The squishing and the squeezing is all in good humor, though. Everybody who frequents the field kitchen is there to serve the animals. They are the beloved creatures of our hearts with whom we each hold a special and unique connection, one which defies the rancid stench of skinned rat and spoiled meat and propels us intrepidly into the elaborate preparation of gourmet prey, a luxury few carnivores outside the boundaries of the Conservators Center are privy to. The sheer amount of effort and resources required to care for and maintain our growing collection of animals is mind-boggling, to say the least.

A single minuscule 12’ x 20’ building is simply not sufficient to fulfill the overwhelming needs of our whiskered residents. The Conservators Center as a living, breathing organism has outgrown its original skin, and the heart can no longer support the needs of the body. The field kitchen is a vital organ that is struggling to keep up with the ever-expanding facility, and until the physical structure is modified and adapted to the current needs of the Center, both the animals and the people who care for them will suffer the consequences.

For years there has been talk about expanding, and the dream of a new and improved field kitchen has been on the horizon for more than one season. Despite our ability to function within strict limitations at our pre-existing facility, it is not without reason that the current line-up of keepers, interns, staff, and volunteers (not to mention the animals) would dare to imagine an updated space, one in which we could avoid stepping on each other’s toes and accidentally flinging skins of rats and fruit at one another while aiming for the trash can.

The blueprints for a new field kitchen area have been in the works for years now, but the more immediate needs of our furry friends have always come first. Lena needs a suspicious lump removed. Luga, our newest addition, needs an enclosure, ASAP. Daisy, our grandmother dinosaur, the matriarch of the pride, requires new medication for her ailing frame. These critical conditions are always at the forefront of our human minds, for our sole purpose in this work is to care for the animals, our friends, the ambassadors of their species, to protect them beyond our reach, outside our fences and gates, and past the narrow view provided by the single window in our current crumbling field kitchen.

Without human intervention, the animals we care for currently may have had the opportunity to thrive in the wild and act as their own chefs and housekeepers. However, due to the severe impact of humans on precious ecosystems around the world combined with significant habitat destruction, the need for wildlife reserves such as the Conservators Center has become increasingly critical to the long-term survival of many wildlife species, especially exotic animals that are viewed as dangerous or harmful to humans like many of our wildcats and other predatory species. Organizations such as ours provide a place for the public to see and form an emotional bond with captive animals who stand as poignant reminders that there are a multitude of wild animals still struggling for survival in places where human development has not yet reached. Our human destinies are inextricably intertwined with those of our wild animal counterparts, and we must work to protect the animals in our care now if there is to be any hope of sustaining their wild cousins in the future.

The generous donors who contribute to the well-being and continued existence of the Conservators Center’s precious collection of animals are an integral piece in the complex puzzle of wildlife conservation. A donation towards an evolved field kitchen may seem small in the scheme of a far greater dilemma relating to the conservation of wild spaces and faces, but the future of the Conservators Center and the ambassador species in our care may well depend on your contribution. We at the Center, human and non-human alike, would like to thank you for your charitable donation, whether it is in the form of an outpouring of love and compassion or a generous check; we all say “Thank you” from the bottom of our furry hearts and from the heart of the Center, our once-thriving field kitchen that has grown too small to accommodate the breadth of our magnanimous mission: to reconnect people with wildlife.

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