Carolina Tiger Rescue hosts third annual virtual 5K

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PITTSBORO — The Tiger Day 5K originated as a way to connect supporters during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now it’s a fundraising staple for Carolina Tiger Rescue.

The 2022 fun run marks the third year of the event, but this time people were allowed to gather together in person.

The run itself is still a virtual 5K, meaning runners can participate from anywhere. To drum up excitement for the Tiger Day event, Carolina Tiger Rescue hosted a kickoff event at The Plant, a 17-acre eco-industrial park in Pittsboro, with live music, food trucks, prizes and t-shirts for those participating in the run. This was the first year of the block-party-style kickoff.

“We started in 2020 with strict COVID protocols in place,” said Susan King Cope, director of development at Carolina Tiger Rescue. “We were very happy to find that our supporters around the country enjoyed taking part in the event from their own homes.”

Cope said the 2020 event had nine sponsors and more than 700 participants, raising nearly $40,000. In 2021 the run had 14 sponsors and more than 620 participants, raising $38,500. Thus far, the 2022 run has 19 sponsors, 454 participants and has raised $22,000, which puts the rescue on target to meet its $40,000 goal for the event.

The Tiger Day 5K began on International Tiger Day, July 29, and lasts through Friday, Aug. 5. International Tiger Day has been held on July 29 every year since 2010 when it was first created at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit in Russia. This was done to raise awareness of the decline of wild tiger numbers, leaving them on the brink of extinction, and to encourage the celebration of the work of tiger conservations.

“This event has consistently been a great way to reach out and educate people about Carolina Tiger Rescue,” Cope said.

This year’s event succeeded in its goal of increasing in-person participation through the kickoff. Individual participants and groups traveled to Pittsboro just to participate. One track and field team came all the way from Alabama to tour the rescue in Pittsboro and run the race.

Participants in this year’s race spanned 28 states and even included an overseas participant from the United Kingdom.

At The Plant, participants of all ages were encouraged to join the Tiger Day festivities with skulls and cat pelts on display for educating kids about the tigers while live music, beer and wine provided entertainment for the adults.

“We love educating folks young and old with events like this,” said Katie Cannon, education director at Carolina Tiger Rescue. “Tigers are endangered, so anything we can do to help our own cats as well as bring awareness to issues surrounding wild tigers, too, is really important.”

Nicole Stafford is one of the participants in the Tiger Day 5K. She’s participated in all three years of the event and says Carolina Tiger Rescue has put a soft spot in her heart for these animals.

“I’m not a runner, but I’m passionate about this cause,” Stafford said. “Their mission is really important and I want to support that in any way I can.”

Stafford said this year’s event made her want to volunteer with the rescue on a more consistent basis.

Cannon said reaching people like Stafford fits the purpose of the 5K: outreach, education and fundraising. She said it has become a way to reach people the rescue doesn’t normally hear from. Some people sign up for the 5K because they like to run, and in the process learn about the cats.

“We have incredible supporters who continually show up for us and the cats,” she said. “But we are hoping to grow in our outreach and find new big cat advocates in all 50 states.”

While supporting the bottom line of Carolina Tiger Rescue is a piece of that goal, Cannon said the other important aspect is educating people about ways to support wildlife sanctuaries across the country and advocating for the continued protection of big cats. That’s why part of the fun run kickoff was dedicated to showing the values and initiatives of Carolina Tiger Rescue — advocating against cub petting, limiting the use of palm oils, ensuring the use of accredited cat sanctuaries and more.

“More than running, this event is about getting the word out there,” Cannon said. “We call it a 5K but it’s really 3.1 of whatever you want — run, walk, paddle, watch 3.1 hours of your favorite show — it’s all great. Personally, I’m planning on taking a 3.1 hour nap. All of it is just meant to get the word out there about Carolina Tiger Rescue.”

So, even if you’re not a runner, Cannon says all are welcome to the Tiger Day 5K this week. For more information and to sign up for the event visit www.runsignup.com/Race/Events/NC/Pittsboro/TigerDay5K. To learn more about the rescue and get involved with Carolina Tiger Rescue visit www.carolinatigerrescue.org.

“When people are out running or thinking about tigers beyond this space, we hope they have these little tidbits of information they can take with them,” Cannon said. “All of these things are just little drops of water to create a big ripple effect for these animals.”

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @b_rappaport.

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