Our History


Charlie Sammut is the heart and soul behind the Monterey Zoo. His love for animals was evident early on in his life – early pets included boas, pythons, sharks, alligators as well as dogs, cats, rats and horses – but back then even Charlie couldn’t have guessed how his life’s work would unfold. As a young man, he worked in law enforcement. One arrest led to an unexpected turn of events. The suspect told the young officer about a pet cougar in his garage who would now be in need of a new home. Charlie couldn’t say no. That was his first exotic pet, but not his last. Before long Charlie acquired a lion cub, an animal that would change his life. Josef was not your ordinary lion. He had a calm and sweet temperament unusual for an African lion. He was so exceptional that a trainer in the film industry asked if Charlie would allow Josef to participate in a Dryfus Fund commercial to be filmed at the Grand Canyon, Arizona. Josef was a hit and went on to star in many commercials and Hollywood films, including The Lion King. Charlie calls Josef the single most important influence in his life. What started out as a hobby and a business now became a passion to educate people about animals and how to preserve the places they call home.

In 1994, Charlie purchased the beautiful 51 acre Vision Quest Ranch located in the sun belt between Monterey and Salinas, California. The Monterey Zoo, formally Wild Things Animal Rentals, Inc. is now home to 100+ exotic animals ranging from spiders to African elephants. The zoo continues to run a full-time educational programs that touches thousands of children and adults annually. The Vision Quest Ranch B&B helps support the animals and provide a unique adventure for animal enthusiasts. The zoo also runs in conjunction with the nonprofit EARS (Elephants of Africa Rescue Society). Elephants of Africa Rescue Society is dedicated to supporting a safe habitat for wild African elephants as well as providing a sanctuary for their captive cousins. EARS believes that by educating the public about the problems facing both captive and wild animals we can increase awareness and support.


Daily Tours
1:00 PM everyday
3:00 PM June – August

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Daily Tours
$20 ages 15 and up
$16 for children 14 & under

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Annual Passes

Enjoy the Zoo year-round!
Individual and Family Plans Available
Starting at only $35

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While providing exemplary animal care, Monterey Zoological Society is dedicated to providing an entertaining yet educational experience which fosters public awareness and respect for all wildlife.

Contact Info

400 River Road, Salinas, CA 93908 Phone: 831-455-1901