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Man’s chimps face uncertain future in Hanover County

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) — A Hanover man has six months to find a new home for four chimpanzees before they could be euthanized. 

Curtis Shepperson lives on his private farm near Mechanicsville along with six chimpanzees and various other animals.

Shepperson has had a permit for two of his chimpanzees for more than a decade, but in 2010, they got out of their cage.

The animals were safely captured by animal control, but officials found four more chimpanzees that were not registered with Hanover County.

Shepperson had acquired the unregistered chimps in from a breeder program after their previous owner lost her license.  The animals stayed with Shepperson.

Shepperson says has documentation from the USDA and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries permitting him to have six chimpanzees.

“The state is fine with it, the government is fine with it, but the county says no,” Shepperson said.

After the escape in 2010, the Hanover County Board of Supervisors ordered Shepperson to make improvements to his chimpanzee habitat to strength it, which he completed.

They also gave Shepperson two years to find a new home for his four unregistered chimpanzees.  The deadline was supposed to be Dec. 23, but Shepperson petitioned the board for a one year extension. 

They granted him six months.

“There’s just no place for them.  All the facilities that house chimpanzees are full,” Shepperson said.  “The county says if I don’t get rid of them within six months now, they’re going to euthanize them.”

“This is serious, and the board has said he has six more months,” Jim Taylor, Assistant County Administrator in Hanover, said.

Taylor says some members of the Board of Supervisors were concerned about giving Shepperson an extension because he has already had two years to relocate the chimps.

“I think euthanasia has to remain an option, but it would have to be the last resort,” Taylor said.  “I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen.”

Both the county and Shepperson have been in contact with various chimpanzee sanctuaries throughout the country, including PrimateSanctuaries.org and SaveTheChimps.org .  

Chimpanzee experts have been to Shepperson’s facility to examine the structure and study the animals. 

Shepperson is retired and currently lives on social security benefits.  He has even if they find a place to take the unregistered chimps, he is not certain he can afford the transportation costs.

The thought of euthanasia as a last resort is unacceptable to Shepperson.

“They [Hanover County] said that’s their last resort, but if I can’t place them in six months, what is the last resort,” Shepperson said when asked what it would mean to him if six months passes and his chimps do not have a new home.

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