Time may be running out for six chimpanzees living in Hanover County. By June 23rd, county officials insist that four of the six chimps on Windy Oaks Animal Farm, must be relocated. County officials say the owner, Curtis Shepperson, has a permit for only two of the chimps. Officials also say there are serious safety concerns, after two incidents of some of the animals escaping.
The threat of euthanization has even been raised, if the animals aren't relocated. However, Deputy Hanover County Administrator Jim Taylor says that would be very unlikely.
"That word has been used, but nobody wants that," said Taylor.
Taylor says he's been working to find an animal sanctuary that will take four of the chimps.
However, Shepperson says that would be more harmful than helpful to the animals. He says the chimps live happily in a $250,000 enclosure that exceeds federal regulations.
"Everything I've got here is better than the USDA requires," says Shepperson.
Shepperson says he has federal and state permits for all six chimps. However, the county has only approved two of the animals. After the second incident of a chimp escaping in 2010 (Authorities say the animal tried to open the door of a nearby home), Shepperson agreed to find homes for four of the chimps.
"In exchange for the county not prosecuting him for breaking the law (not having permits for the other four chimps), he agreed to relocate four of them," explained Taylor.
However, Shepperson says that after two years of searching, he hasn't found a sanctuary willing to take just four of his chimps, as opposed to all of them.
"The sanctuaries wouldn't take them unless they had them all, and I'm not willing to get rid of all of them. I'm willing to keep two that I'm licensed for," said Shepperson.
Taylor says some chimp sanctuaries have policies of only accepting exotic animals if the owner agrees to relinquish all of the animals. This is to discourage private ownership of chimps and other exotic wildlife. Some advocates say private breeding of exotic animals is also a problem.
Shepperson maintains that his facility is more than adequate for the chimps, which he considers part of his family. He also says the animals would be severely distressed if they were to be separated.
County officials ultimately gave Shepperson an extension on relocating the chimps, at the end of last year.
"If I couldn't get rid of them by six months, by June 23rd, they were going to euthanize them," said Shepperson of what he claims county officials told him.
Shepperson's assistant animal caretaker, Morgan Sams, says the chimps are best left where they are, and not separated.
"These chimpanzees are a healthy, happy family, right here," said Sams, a retired police officer who worked in Ohio.
Sams was hired by Shepperson months ago to help care for the animals. Sams says he's a knowledgeable chimp enthusiast, who fell in love with Shepperson's farm.
Next Wednesday evening, there will be a public hearing with the county Board of Supervisors on whether Mr. Shepperson will be able to keep the chimps.
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