Six chimpanzees currently living at a residence in Mechanicsville, Virginia, will find a new home at Houston Zoo later this year, thanks to long-running efforts by Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE, Houston Zoo and Curtis and Bea Shepperson, the chimpanees’ current owners.
The news comes ahead of a county-issued June 23 deadline to relocate four of the chimpanzees and ensures a bright future for the animals because they will be able to remain together as a family unit in an accredited zoo. The Sheppersons had been under pressure from local officials to relocate the chimpanzees because of a recent escape and lack of proper licenses. No suitable placement options were available—until now.
Houston Zoo’s state-of-the-art African Forest exhibit will provide a suitable home for six relocated pet chimpanzees and allow them to remain together as a troop. Photo courtesy of Houston Zoo.
”This is an extremely positive resolution for everyone involved, but most of all for the chimpanzees themselves,” says Steve Ross, Ph.D., director of Project ChimpCARE and the zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. Ross also chairs the chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), a shared conservation effort by zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He first began working with the Sheppersons in 2010.
“Keeping the chimpanzees together in their social group is unquestionably the best move for their wellbeing, and the animals are now poised to receive the lifetime care they deserve," says Ross. ”This outcome is a testament to what good can come from cooperation by people on all sides of an issue.”
That cooperation is at the heart of Project ChimpCARE, whose goal is to provide suitable housing for all of the some 2,200 chimpanzees living in the U.S. by promoting collaboration between accredited institutions and private owners like the Sheppersons.
“We have looked after these chimpanzees for most of their lives, and we will miss them dearly when they go,” says Curtis Shepperson. “But we have always wanted what is best for them, and sending all six chimpanzees as a complete group to Houston Zoo is just that.”
This is the second time Project ChimpCARE and Houston Zoo have collaborated. In 2009, 10 chimpanzees took up residence in Houston’s new exhibit after years working in the entertainment industry; the chimpanzees have flourished there.
“We are delighted to offer a home to this troop,” says Beth Schaefer, Houston Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores. “Our proven experience with privately owned chimpanzees puts us in a unique position to provide the best possible care for these animals. Our chimpanzee habitat is the newest in the nation and is widely regarded as one of the world’s preeminent facilities.”
The move is expected to take place later this year, pending veterinary examinations, and logistical details are still under development. But everyone involved agrees this is the long-awaited happy ending to a complicated and emotionally charged issue.