Local residents visited Windy Oaks Animal Farm last weekend for one last look at a group of chimpanzees that will be leaving Hanover for Houston, Texas, at the end of the year.
They also came to lend support to owner, Curtis Shepperson, who considers his group of primates family.
July 28, visitors drove from nearby Mechanicsville and other parts of Hanover County, as well as Henrico, Chesterfield and parts of Richmond, some first-time visitors. They all had one thing in common: supporting Shepperson’s last fundraiser to raise money for children with cancer like his young grandson.
They also attended the event to say “hello” or “goodbye” to the chimps before their Dec. 31 departure from their Mechanicsville home, Windy Oaks Farm.
After reading an article saying the chimps were leaving for Houston soon, Audrey Hingley was motivated to stop by the zoo. “I thought I better see them while I can,” she said.
The chimps’ move to the Houston Zoo was prompted by a county mandate for the primates’ relocation after two chimps escaped and the county discovered that four of the chimps housed at Windy Oaks did not have the required “vicious animal” permits.
Despite the already decided fate of the chimps, Mechanicsville resident Hingley and husband, Brian Hingley, sympathized with the thought of having to give up a beloved animal.
“I think it’s sad personally, ‘cause to me [my dogs] are like my family,” Audrey said. “I know that’s how [the Sheppersons] feel.”
Brian compared Shepperson’s love for his chimps to the sentiments of dog and cat owners and their pets that “become like family members,” he said.
“I’m sure it’s really difficult for them to let their chimps go,” Brian added.
About 350 people, comprised of families, couples and curious residents, attended the fundraiser throughout the day. At the event, Shepperson had food for a cheap price, a DJ playing music and a moon bounce for the kids to play on. Guests also could take a “hay ride” from the entrance of the zoo up to where all the animals are housed.
Shepperson was more than happy with how Windy Oak’s last event played out.
“I love to see people happy. I love to see little children smile,” he said.
Another first-time visitor, Mechanicsville resident Jeff Chandler, brought his 8-year-old twins to the event for their first and last trip to see the chimpanzees.
The facility’s cleanliness and atmosphere surprised Chandler, he said, comparing Windy Oaks Animal Farm to other zoos like Metro Richmond Zoo.
“Where else can you bring your kids to a place like this?” he asked.
Some have raised safety concerns about the Sheppersons housing chimps in a private zoo, but Chandler was not worried. He said safety was not a concern while he and his sons observed the chimpanzees in their enclosure.
“I value [my sons] more than anything in this world and I wouldn’t even think of having them around this program if I didn’t think it was right,” Chandler said.
Brian Hingley also commended the Sheppersons for their work with Windy Oaks Animal Farm.
“I don’t think you could have asked for any better care or security for these animals and for the residents in the area,” he said. “I think it’s an unfortunate situation that [the Sheppersons] have to give [the chimps] up.”