Afra, a 4-year-old white-tailed deer, and Alice, a small white rabbit, spend their days grazing together and snuggling in a Bambi and Thumper-like relationship.
A Disney-style friendship has formed at the Chase Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservancy in Webster, Florida. Afra, a 4-year-old white-tailed deer, and Alice, a small white rabbit, spend their days grazing together and snuggling in a Bambi and Thumper-like relationship. "They spend a lot of time together," Nina Vassallo, 61, the sanctuary's founder, told PEOPLE. "They watch out for each other, just like human friends." The non-profit works to preserve endangered primates, like monkeys and lemurs. They occasionally take in rescues or surrendered exotic pets to provide veterinary care, kindness, and life with their kind.
Afra lost her mother when she was hit and killed by a car, and she arrived at the sanctuary about two years ago. Alice arrived around the same time. "She was someone's pet bunny," Vassallo says, reported PEOPLE. "Her owner came here for a tour, and they saw we have this big, open habitat. It's three acres, and they wanted her to have the ability to run all around in the grass and dig tunnels." "One always knows where the other is," Vassallo noted. "They may get separated for a little while, but they always come back together." However, the duo is not the only highlight of the sanctuary. They also host a variety of unique experiences, like weekly tours, painting with primates, and lemur yoga events.
While speaking to Click Orlando, Vassallo said that the animals are cared for by staff, nutritionists and vet techs, getting the proper medical care, food, and enrichment for the animals' welfare. Some animals end up in the sanctuary after being injured and unable to return to the wild. To manage everything, Vassallo says it costs around $30,000 a month and that these fun events are a way to raise money for the animals. “Everything we bring in from these events goes back to the animals," she began. "We have a very small payroll. We put 100+% because we put in some of our 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 to interact with the animals, and most are friendly and will approach guests holding some fruits. “It is 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 is all voluntary on their part—we do not require any animals to interact, and we always make sure they can leave and back to their habitat if they want to, but they like to interact.” The wildlife conservancy sits on 10 acres in Webster with more than 160 animals—from deer to exotic birds, anteaters to sloths. The events are not only held to generate money and support conservation efforts worldwide 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 shared. “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.”