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A bit about us, our Founder, and Josef.


In 1994, Charlie Sammut purchased the Vision Quest Ranch that would one day serve as his home and a home to the animals he worked with in the film and television industry. In 2006, the addition of a Safari Style B&B was added to the ranch in an effort to further share his animals and their conservation message with those who visited. In 2012, a transition began as Charlie hoped to exit the entertainment industry and make education and conservation his true goals. By 2019, what was formally Wild Things A.R., Inc. became the Monterey Zoological Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit zoological property and home to 100+ exotic animals ranging from spiders to African rhinos. In 2020, Monterey Zoological Society became proudly accredited by the Zoological Association of America. The Vision Quest Ranch Safari B&B and Vision Quest Ranch Event Venue help support the animals by offering exciting alternative means of overnighting and entertaining in Monterey County while providing a unique, educational and conservation minded adventure for animal enthusiasts.

Sketch of VQR bungalow
Picture of VQR bungalow
White Earth
Charlie and Lisa
Charlie and Josef


Charile Sammut, Founder/President of both Vision Quest Ranch and Monterey Zoological Society

Charlie is the heart and soul behind Vision Quest Ranch and 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 the first exotic animal in his life, 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 has now became a passion for Charlie and his wife, Lisa, to educate people about animals and how to preserve the places they call home.


"Josef " was born on 8/1/86 at the West Coast Game Park in Bandon, Oregon. He came into Charlie's life in January of 1987 at the age of 5 months old. Little did Charlie know just how big an impact Josef would have on his life or his career. Josef was in fact, the true founder of Charlie’s first animal business,  Wild Things A.R. Inc, for Josef was the sole reason to even start the company.


Josef joined the film industry when there were very few male lions available that were safe and able to achieve the wants and desires of the industry. He was and always will be, our  biggest STAR!  At 500 lbs. with an absolutely gorgeous extended mane, Josef worked full contact with children and adults alike. He also worked in close proximity to other animals. He was undisputedly, one of the Best and Safest working  male lions in the history of the entertainment industry!

Some of Josef's credits included :  TV's Tarzan, The Lion King, Naked Gun 3, "George of the Jungle",  Meet the Deedles,  The Postman, MGM, Animal Planet's - Wild on the Set, BORN  FREE  the series,  Dreyfus fund, music videos for many artists to include Janet and Michael Jackson, countless still photo appearances and much more!

Josef in Africa
Josef on cover of magazine
MGM Lion - Josef
Josef lounging

In 2000,  per a promise Charlie made Josef many years earlier, Josef was completely retired from entertainment and allowed to enjoy his retirements at Vision Quest Ranch. He went for his walks with Charlie, played loose on the ranch and visited with those lucky enough to be around when it was happening. Regardless of circumstances, Charlie turned down all commercial work for Josef in an attempt to keep a promise. 

In 2006, Josef began showing the unfortunate signs of old age. His walks were shortened to accommodate his aching joints and his diet was enhanced with herbs and medications as needed to help him remain as comfortable as possible in his old age. Towards the end of June and into July of 2008, Josef's health was failing more and more requiring Charlie to hand feed and water him daily but his spirits seemed calm and relaxed. He was just old and in need of help, help Charlie was more than happy to provide an old friend and Josef seemed more than happy to receive from the same.


On July 7th, 2008, Charlie found Josef sleeping in the sun of his paddock as he normally did but this time, Josef wouldn't wake up. It was time and Charlie was faced with making the decision he had dreaded for so long. It was time to say good-bye to a best friend, a partner and a true soul mate.

Those who knew Josef well have all contacted us with the exact same message, "our lives were blessed and made better for having met such a special being." In the industry, several company owners have had special relationships with very special male  lions but no-one seems to have ever had two in one lifetime. Charlie realizes this but he also realizes how many have never even had one and he feels truly blessed for having had Josef. Because Josef started Wild Things, it seemed only fitting that be buried at the entrance of Vision Quest Ranch. Never before in the history of the ranch has it ever been completely closed to the public. On this day, the gates were closed, locked and manned by volunteers for the entire day. A beautiful memorial bench shaped like a sleeping male lion was placed next to Josef's grave where his friends, family and Charlie can sit and visit with him for as Charlie has stated on several other such sad occasions, "I believe ~  in another place, a better place, a place where I will join Josef and my many other friends who left before me ~ a place where we will be reunited and never separated again." 


Josef is and will always remain the identity of Vision Quest Ranch and Monterey Zoo. His silhouette will be forever present throughout the zoo and his memory will all define everything we do for animals. 

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