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Endangered primates find their forever homes

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Primate Palooza set for this weekend embraces music, fun and more to help fund a new vet clinic for the Chase Sanctuary

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Located in Webster, Florida, lies a 10-acre oasis full of comfort and love and a forever home for a variety of exotic animals who have been neglected, abused or otherwise dealt a cruel or unfair hand.

The Chase Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, was originally founded 15 years ago as a dog, cat and bird rescue by Nina Vassallo, a semi-retired executive consultant.
“But, following the delivery of a very special brown lemur in 2014, the sanctuary’s prime focus now is the preservation of critically endangered Ruffed Lemurs, Cotton Top Tamarins and public education of specific species and ecosystems,” she stated.

The red ruffed lemur loves to take care of its appearance and spends a lot of time grooming itself personally as well as socially in its troop.

Their mission is to rehabilitate pet primates who have become aggressive, as nearly all pet primates do after a few years. The sanctuary is against the ownership of primates as pets as primates benefit substantially when they live in natural family-sized troops, high up in the trees where they play and forage.

“It is exactly the lack of this type of environment that causes many of them to become aggressive,” said Nina. “In light of this, family troops here are permitted to breed and create an ideal family structure after which time, the males are neutered and/or the females are placed on birth control. The sanctuary will never sell any primates to the public,” she added.

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Primates at the sanctuary include lemurs, monkeys and a few other exotic species including sloths, toucans, antelope… to name a few. At the sanctuary, you can see a host of animals including exotic birds, kangaroos, capybara, tortoises, and the most favorite, the lemurs.

A pair of anteaters. Otis, the sanctuary’s talented and artistic anteater will show off his skills at painting and some of his original artwork will be auctioned off at the Primate Palooza on Nov. 13, 2022.

Donna Vassallo has been with the sanctuary for more than 14 years and is a retired sergeant from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. She said, “This is a place where unwanted or overly aggressive primates can recover and live out their years in peace and safety under a gorgeous canopy of grandfather oaks and palm trees.” Presently, there are about 145 primates at the sanctuary and more than 80 wonderful and dedicated volunteers who help with all aspects of their care and feeding.

The sanctuary has stringent guidelines for feeding and each animal has its own specific diet specially created by an expert nutritionist.
“Diet sheets are posted in our kitchen that our volunteers follow strictly,” said Donna. “We also supplement some diets with Monkey Biscuits, a product made by Purina. “It’s a good source of vitamins, nutrients and proteins that will help our primates to have healthy bones, teeth, skin, and fur.”

The sanctuary is also working to grow more food on the property. The bright pink, showy flowers and lush, green foliage of hibiscus plants are an attractive food source for many animals ranging from deer to turtles. “It’s the Sloth that really love hibiscus flowers as a tasty meal,” said Donna. “We are also growing plumbago, another rich source of food for our primates.”

“Being able to grow some of the food our primates enjoy is one way to supplement the costs of running the sanctuary,” said Donna. “But we also are planning a very special fundraiser event from 3 pm to 7 pm on Sunday, Nov. 13 where 100 percent of proceeds will go towards the construction of a much needed veterinary clinic.”

The event will feature live acoustic music, a three-course meal and a cash bar in a gorgeous setting. There will be door raffles, baskets and a live auction with a professional auctioneer for some lucky winners to receive a cruise, a scooter or a mini vacation. Otis, the sanctuary’s talented and artistic anteater will show off his painting skills and some of his original artwork will be auctioned off at the event along with lots of other interesting and valuable items that have been donated or purchased specially. “We receive a lot of support from ASEH (Animal\Specialty & Emergency Hospital) located in Rockledge, Florida,” said Donna. “But our goal is to raise enough funds so we can have our very own veterinary clinic at the sanctuary.”

Currently, the sanctuary has a full-time staff vet tech on site and works with an exotic animal veterinarian two days a week for necessary prescriptions and more.

For visitors — especially animal lovers — the sanctuary can be interesting place to see firsthand a variety of primates and learn the stories of how they got there. The sanctuary has also introduced a variety of programs and tours for members of the public to enjoy.
Lemur Yoga is one of their most popular fun event. Lemurs are natural yoga companions as they take on various poses to soak in the sun. This act is known as “sun worshipping.” Spend a memorable morning or afternoon surrounded by some incredibly attractive endangered species. The lemurs and a local artist will help participants paint on canvas while lemurs come and visit each artist. Paint, canvas, easel, and brushes are included. To take part in this program, members must be 13 and older. Each participant will leave with their own work of art, and maybe some lemur hand prints if you’re lucky.

Black and white ruffed lemurs in the high branches of an ancient oak tree art the Chase Sanctuary in Webster, Florida.

Other animal experiences include Sloth Meditation, Interactive Group Tours, Painting with Primates and Acoustics in the Afternoon. For more information, visit www.chasesanctuary.org. You must call ahead to schedule a tour as they have limited hours of operation for the general public.
The goal of Chase is to continually work towards the most natural habitats possible while keeping the safety and well-being of the primates and other exotics in mind at all times.

“Every animal that enters our sanctuary is coming to their forever home and each will receive specialized enrichment and care for the most natural existence possible in a sanctuary setting,” emphasized Donna. “It is essential that we educate those around us about the importance of the animals with whom we co-exist.”

Lemurs interact during a painting class.
Aerial view of the 10-acre sanctuary in Webster, Fla. Photos courtesy of Chase Sanctuary.
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