Never mind that the animals bide their time mostly eating and relaxing. Cepuch, the original owner of his 16-year-old Colonial on Dasher Lane, has not grown jaded. “I love being able to look up from whatever I’m doing and see zebras and buffalo grazing,” he said. He finds them enchanting — even in the middle of the night. “I love hearing the shrieks and cries and moos,” he said.
Once known as the Reston Pet-a-Pet Farm, the reserve — a former dairy farm just north of Lake Fairfax — was opened in 1974 by Mack S. “Jack” Crippen, a colorful Fairfax businessman who began collecting exotic animals after receiving a pet llama from animal lover Arthur Godfrey. Today the menagerie, which also includes about 260 non-roaming exotic animals plus some 130 sheep, goats and other barnyard critters, is run by Meghan Mogensen, a third-generation zookeeper whose father, Eric Mogensen, had leased the property since 2000 and bought it shortly after Crippen’s death in 2006. The Mogensens also own private zoos in the Shenandoah Valley and in the Florida Panhandle.
The novelty of seeing exotic animals from his house was a major draw to the neighborhood, said Alan Tashima, also an original homeowner. Although friends warned him of the risk of wafting zoo smells, “we’ve never had a problem,” he said.
Keeping the animals contained, however, has proved trickier. Not long after moving in, Tashima and his wife discovered one of the zoo’s deer nibbling shrubs in their back yard. The deer, which had escaped through a hole in the fence, was safely recaptured and returned.
More recently, homeowner Joan Lefler spotted one of the zoo’s peahens (a female peacock) in her yard, feeding amid a flock of Canada geese.
“I looked out the window and saw the geese, which wasn’t unusual. But then I saw this other bird that didn’t belong. I assume it either flew over or was blown over the fence by the wind,” said Lefler, who called Fairfax County animal control to come capture the bird and take it back home.
How an alligator wound up in Erin Kemp’s yard in 2007 remains a mystery. Kemp, a Fairfax County teacher, spotted the 2½-foot-long reptile while taking out the trash and trapped it in a guinea pig cage before calling animal control. Although she and others suspected that the alligator was another zoo escapee, officials there said at the time that all of their residents were where they should be.