🐵Yoga with lemurs, painting with primates helps support Central Florida wildlife conservancy

Chase Sanctuary has more than 160 animals, helps repopulate endangered species

SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – If you’re looking for a calming activity, you may turn to painting or yoga, but one Sumter County attraction is adding some wildlife like deer, anteaters and even lemurs to the mix. It’s all in an effort to help endangered animals.

It all started as a dog and cat rescue at a Webster property.

Fifteen years later, it’s turned into a wildlife conservancy and sanctuary with more than 160 animals, many at risk for extinction.

Nina Vassallo is an animal advocate and founder of Chase Wildlife Conservancy.

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The wildlife conservancy sits on 10 acres in Webster with more than 150 animals—everything from deer to exotic birds, anteaters to sloths.

“As a sanctuary and zoological facility, it’s maybe odd that we treat them as our own babies, but we really truly do love them. They’re very important to us. If one is sick, we’re usually out here with them all night. We feel like they’re our responsibility and we feel like the human race has done enough damage to these animals and to the planet so we feel it’s our responsibility to do the best we can for them while they’re here,” Vassallo said.

The sanctuary participates in species preservation programs for animals like lemurs.

“We have some black and white ruffed lemurs. They’re from Madagascar and they are critically endangered with only 1,000 left in the wild, and unfortunately, it’s looking like they’re going to go extinct. So one of the things we try to do here is preserve the species by working with other zoological facilities and trading animals, trading bloodlines to try to maintain a robust population at least in captivity so they can continue to exist in the future,” Vassallo said.

The animals are cared for by staff, nutritionists and vet techs on-site, getting the proper medical care, food and enrichment the animals need to thrive. Some animals end up there after being injured and unable to return to the wild. To manage it all, Vassallo said it takes about $30,000 a month.

That’s why the sanctuary hosts a variety of unique experiences, like weekly tours, painting with primates and lemur yoga events.

“Everything we bring in from these events goes right back to the animals. I don’t take a salary; Donna doesn’t take a salary. We have a very small payroll. We put 100+% because we put in some of our own funds back into preservation here with species preservation, but also overseas with several organizations with their boots on the ground working in the forest,” Vassallo said.

Visitors get the opportunity to interact with the animals. Most are friendly and will approach guests holding some fresh fruit.

“It’s a lot of fun. The lemurs will come out of the trees and jump on you,” Vassallo said. “They’ll put a print on your picture or do a yoga pose with you. It’s all voluntary on their part—we don’t require any animals to interact and we always make sure they can leave and go back to their habitat if they want to, but they like to interact.”

The events are not only held to raise money to maintain the sanctuary and support conservation efforts around the world, but bring awareness and educate visitors.

“We start with a 15-minute educational video about what we do and the plight of the lemurs. The painting and yoga instructors talk about the animals all through the class and that is the goal—for people to leave here and just change one thing,” Vassallo said. “Maybe they start to recycle or use reusable shopping bags. We do that and can make a little difference. There’s also a sense of there’s so much more to be done, we’re just doing our very little tiny piece.”

Chase Sanctuary is not open to the public and guests have to make a reservation before visiting. Click HERE to book an experience at Chase Sanctuary and learn more about its conservation efforts.

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About the Author:

Crystal Moyer is a morning news anchor who joined the News 6 team in 2020.