There are some cats Carolina Tiger Rescue can’t take


Carolina Tiger Rescue is a 501(c)3 nonprofit wildlife sanctuary whose mission is saving and protecting wild cats in captivity and in the wild.


Pena and Lapis were the last snow leopards to live at Carolina Tiger Rescue.

To accommodate for their climate needs, air conditioners were attached to their den boxes.  

But that wasn’t enough.

“They certainly made it work, but they were not as active as they would have been had there been a temperature controlled area,” said Kathryn Bertok, Carolina Tiger curator and assistant director. “They live in colder climates. North Carolina’s climate gets too hot for them.”

Carolina Tiger Rescue decided not to take snow leopards at this time because it doesn’t want any animal to be uncomfortable

So, the rescue decided it couldn’t take cat species, such as snow leopards and Canadian lynx, that require a cold climate. At least not at this time. 

The decision shows Carolina Tiger’s dedication to its rescue, education and conservation efforts. It isn’t fair to accept an animal who can’t get everything he or she needs here – including climate control.

Our primary motivator is being able to care for these cats for the rest of their lives,” Bertok said. “We want to make sure every decision we make, including the species we bring in, holds true to that value. We want to provide everything they need to have a happy life in captivity. We don’t want to have an animal that is uncomfortable just because that cat is very neat.”

Snow leopards are indeed neat.

They have a distinctive fur coat, which unfortunately makes them a target in the illegal wildlife market. They are called “mountain ghosts” since they are rarely seen, and snow leopards, which are not a subspecies of leopard, inhabit landscapes between 8,200 and 18,000 feet above sea level. 

Wild snow leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia and are listed as a vulnerable species; they occupy 60 percent of historic range.

Pena Snow Leopard

Lapis Snow Leopard

Carolina Tiger won’t take in snow leopards, but it can tutor the public about the species, their habitat and the plight of all big cats through the education program. That includes website development containing species that aren’t Carolina Tiger residents, for example.

The last snow leopard lived at Carolina Tiger in 2006, when Pena died. Lapis died in 2003. The pair lived together, and they both arrived in Pittsboro the early 1990s.

It doesn’t mean the sanctuary can’t ever have the species again, though.

“We would need to have a very large spacious indoor area that we could temperature control,” Bertok said. “It’s not that this could never happen in our future, but it would require a different level of building that we had not done before.”

About Snow Leopards

  • Snow leopards (uncia uncia) are often referred to as mountain ghosts because they are secretive in nature and rarely seen. 
  • Their conservation status is listed as vulnerable, as between 3,900 and 7,500 are estimated living in the wild. 
  • Sixty percent of their habitat is found in China, and they can inhabit landscapes between 8,200 and 18,000 feet above sea level. 
  • One of their primary threats is the black market. Their distinctive fur is highly-coveted, their parts can sell for thousands and their bones are used for medicinal purposes in Asia.
  • Climate change is a new challenge snow leopards face, due to the rise in temperature in the Central Asia mountains.