On the way to Chase Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, in Webster, you can get a glimpse into the natural beauty of Central Florida. Far from magical castles or witch schools, a drive on State Road 50 down a dirt road leads to an adventure of a different kind.
Chase Sanctuary was started about 14 years ago by Donna and Nina Vasallo. When they purchased the property, they noticed hounds and stray cats roaming all over the area. She helped Nina find homes for these animals one by one and began to gain a reputation for helping the animals out.
Over time, many other animals – parrots, toucans, deer and guinea pigs – found a home in the reserve. The site is licensed by the US Department of Agriculture and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
One resident is Tracy, a common brown lemur and probably the oldest lemur in the world over 40 years old. She was the first lemurs in the care of Vassallos, and through them they learned about the fate of the species.
Due to deforestation and hunting, lemurs have become an endangered species. The widespread pet trade also does not help their situation. Many people trade and sell lemurs as pets in the United States, which can cause these animals to become aggressive over time.
The Vasalis family adopted some of these unwanted “pets” and gave them a safe place to live for the rest of their lives. And their first wish is to completely eliminate the pet trade from lemurs.
“Don’t make them pets. “Be more aware of what’s happening to the planet and the environment,” Nina said. “These animals have just as much right to be here as we do.”
At the sanctuary, visitors will be greeted not only by smiling volunteers, but also by many chickens, cats and turtles. If you book a private tour, you can even go to some of the enclosures and interact with the lemurs directly.
Although some would argue that these interactions do not help lemurs, Vassallos, and their associated organization, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, they disagree. Lemurs actually receive many benefits from interacting with humans. In fact, it’s part of the enrichment program, according to Vassallos.
In addition to private tours, you can also interact with primates while painting the shelter with lemur or lemur yoga events.
“I don’t think I knew exactly where this would go. It grows very organically and evolves,” said Nina. “Five years ago, I would never have thought of drawing with primates or lemurs and yoga!”
Although painting with a lemur, or doing a downward-facing dog while the lemur is hopping on your back can be fun, caring for these animals requires a lot of care and financial resources. Recently, the shelter lost its primary product donor. They are looking for someone to fill that spot.
For more information about the tours, call 352-988-8014 or email [email protected]
Information on donations, tours and events is also posted on www.chasesanctuary.org and on their Facebook page at ChaseRescueSanctuary.