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YEAR IN REVIEW: Milton resident hopes to open local zoo

Neighbors not happy

Milton resident Dean Riopelle has collected primates for more than 18 years, including these Capuchin monkeys, who hug and kiss him when he enters their habitat. He wants to create a primate zoo, opening his hairy friends up to the public. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)

Monkey on my back: Milton Councilman Matt Kunz makes a new friend while taking a tour of Riopelle’s home. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)

Dean Riopelle has raised many of the animals himself. JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)

JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)

JONATHAN COPSEY. (click for larger version)
January 03, 2013
MILTON, Ga. – Milton resident Dean Riopelle collected exotic animals for years.

"I got my first primate 18 years ago," Riopelle said. It was a ring-tailed lemur – those furry little guys with the long black and white tails. "But I worked so much, she became lonely. So I got her a boyfriend. They had twins immediately."

His furry friends began to grow from there. He estimates he has about 100 animals on his 21-acre property in the middle of Milton. Everything from donkeys to wallabies to porcupines roam his land, but most of the animals are primates. Monkeys.

Many of his monkeys are Capuchin. These little creatures with amazingly human faces grow about the size of a housecat, are very inquisitive and can reproduce every eight months. Riopelle has given them all Biblical names, such as Delilah and Jezebel.

Most of the animals are in pens or cages, although some roam freely. The monkeys have large open cages with lots of places to hide in and climb on.

He approached the city with his idea to make a zoo. Milton staffers were understandably taken aback by the request for a zoo but a tinkering of the code made it legal to own certain exotic pets in the city. Now Riopelle wants to push forward and officially create his zoo.

But not if the residents of a nearby neighborhood have anything to say about it.

Neighbors of Dean Riopelle's Hopewell Road property have become very vocal recently about his plans.

"An exotic preserve in the middle of Milton? Do we need such an attraction in Milton? On a residential road that already has speeding on it?" asked Kay Norvell who lives in the Sunnybrook Farms neighborhood, which shares a border with Riopelle's property. "If he wants a breeding preserve, he needs to take it somewhere out of town."

The residents surrounding Riopelle's property have been trying to be good neighbors for years, Norvell said. The screeches of the monkeys have become just another part of the background noise of the city to them.

However, that changed when they found out Riopelle hopes to increase the numbers of animals on the property and make it a zoo, open to the public.

"I don't like the idea of anybody owning exotic animals. I think they need to be in their natural habitat," she said, adding that an expansion of the site would harm property values in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The city was to hold a Planning Commission meeting in December to hear Riopelle's issue. That meeting has been deferred until Jan. 22.

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