WEBSTER, Fla. — The renowned Chase Sanctuary, located outside The Villages, offers animal enthusiasts a unique learning experience — Painting with Primates, a program that provides a way to learn about animals and help the sanctuary at the same time.

What You Need To Know

  • Visitors can paint with their favorite primate at Chase Sanctuary in Webster

  • The sanctuary is just outside The Villages

  • The facility has 150 different types of animals — including lemurs, tortoises and deer

  • Proceeds from activities like Painting with Primates go to the animals and conservation projects

Calling Chase Sanctuary founder Nina Vassallo an animal lover would be an understatement.

"I think some people are just born with a need or a purpose or a desire to do something, and I’ve been like that since I was a kid," Vassallo said.

She soon realized her purpose was to help animals, so she put that love and desire into helping the community.

"We started out as a dog and cat rescue about 17 years ago,” Vassallo said. “Then we got one special lemur named Tracey."

Tracey sparked a new purpose within Vassallo to help the lemur species.

"She kind of changed it all for us,” Vassallo said. “We started learning about them. People knew we had them. They sent more. Now we’re very active in rescue rehabilitation."

Since then, Vassallo and the Chase Sanctuary have hosted unique experiences like Painting with Primates to get people engaged and informed about the endangered species.

The experience is what it sounds like. A local artist helps visitors paint a chosen picture on a canvas while sitting in the open air amongst grandfather oak trees. Meanwhile, the lemurs jump from tree to tree and might pay a visit while you paint.

"This is their habitant, where they come to play in the trees. So, they’re just going to come out and play,” Vassallo said. “If they want, they’ll come visit people. It’s all on their terms."

It’s not just about the painting for Vassallo. All public activities go toward a great cause.

"It provides medical care, provides housing if they need it,” she said. “And makes sure they can live."

It costs at least $30,000 per month to keep 150 animals happy and healthy, Vassallo said. All proceeds from activities like Painting with Primates go right back to the animals, she said.

"It really is necessary to bring in these funds to support these guys,” Vassallo said. “We do well; we make good money. But we don’t make enough money to impact at the level we need to."

The team at Chase Sanctuary not only works on conservation locally, but it also partners with overseas organizations like Bioparc of Doué-la-Fontaine. It helps fund two field biologists who are helping red-ruffed lemurs in the Vilongoza forest in Madagascar. Chase Sanctuary has also partnered with The Dania Beach Vervet Project to provide medical care, enrichment, nutrition and even housing for the vervet monkeys in South Florida. 

More information on Chase Sanctuary is available on its website.