Four monkeys must migrate in Cold Harbor

Four chimps must vacate Windy Oaks Animal Farm by June 23, the Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday night.

Curtis Shepperson keeps six chimpanzees at his private zoo on Bultaco Trail in the Cold Harbor District, but he only has permits for two.

Four chimpanzees at a private zoo in Cold Harbor must find new homes. (Photo courtesy of Michael Elliott/

The county requires permits for private possession of any animal deemed “vicious” under the county’s ordinance. The chimps are the only animals at Windy Oaks that meet the county’s definition of vicious.

The Sheppersons acquired three of the additional chimps through a breeder loan program, the Sheppersons’ attorney had told the board in December. During the loan, the original owner lost her license to have chimpanzees, leaving them with nowhere to go.

The county learned of the unpermitted animals following two incidents in which a chimp escaped.

A notice of violation was issued following the second escape in 2010, and the county and Shepperson reached a compliance agreement that December.

In addition to various safety improvements to the facility, now complete, the agreement required Shepperson to relocate the four unpermitted chimps within two years. But finding a suitable home for the chimps has proven challenging.

The board granted Shepperson a six-month extension last December. Shepperson on May 8 sought a permit to keep all four additional chimps.

Deputy County Administrator Jim Taylor said county staff recommended denial of the request.

The chimps had a few defenders at the public hearing, including their caretaker, Morgan Sams, who called attacks by the animals rare.

“I understand your concern. An adult chimpanzee can be an extremely dangerous animal if mishandled or threatened, and I guarantee you none of that is happening at Windy Oaks,” Sams said.

Karl Davis, a neighbor to the property, urged the board to reject the request.

“These are not cute, cuddly little monkeys. These are adult predators that have a tremendous amount of strength,” he said.

Ashland District Supervisor Ed Via made a motion to deny the permits, which eventually passed 6-1.

“I’m not willing to take the chance on the safety of our citizens,” Via said.

Cold Harbor Supervisor Elton Wade was the sole dissenting vote. He called the facility “sturdier than any zoo I’ve ever seen.”

“They’re not going to escape on their own, and I would testify to that fact,” Wade said.

He added, “I think they’re safer today than they were two and a half years ago. I wish we could find a way to keep them, but I don’t see that happening.”

Taylor said county staff has been contacted by a private zoo in Indiana, which has offered to take up to two of the chimps. He has also been in touch with the Florida-based Save the Chimps sanctuary.

“So I think we will have a couple of different options. I do think the word is out. I think a lot of people are following this across the country,” he continued.

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm