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Charlie Sammut-Bio

1961      Born -Dearborn, Michigan. I have a sister a year older and an identical twin brother. We lived in Michigan until 1965 at which time we moved to Redwood City, California where my Dad worked for Western Gear Company as a machinist. Dad worked double and triple shifts while Mom worked as a secretary to save enough money to one day open a motel in Salinas, California. In 1972, we moved to Salinas, California and built the Laurel Inn Motel & Restaurant which opened a year later.It was as "family run" as a business could be for we did it all !!! Office, laundry, maintenance, it was at that time I learned what it takes to create and maintain a new business - the Sammut technique - which is a bit tough at times but has never failed us.  

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                   Charlie & Friends

1978     Graduated from Palma High School - Salinas, California. Although I always had a need to have and be around animals, my Dad didn't always share this enthusiasm. It was my Mom who caved into it occasionally and it was she I must have received the anthropomorphic gene which often plaques me when dealing with my animals and the film industry in general. Our love for animals was, is and will no doubt always remain beyond our control.  It was at this time I moved out on my own which enabled me to begin an extensive and varied menagerie of pets. All were of a legal pet store nature, but exotic and unusual none the less. (Boas, pythons, sharks, parrots, alligators, as well as dogs, cats, rats, & horses)

1979 - 1980    Enrolled at Hartnell College - Salinas, California where I attended the Animal Health Technology Program with the intent of pursuing a career in Veterinary Medicine. During this time, I also worked full time at the Toro Park Veterinary Clinic.

1981 - 1985     In short, Mom & Dad's dreams skyrocketed. Their 54 unit Laurel Inn would eventually become 146 rooms with my sister Terry there to run it. To date, for two European immigrants from the Mediterranean island of Malta, Mom and Dad are the two most successful people I have ever known.  They define the words self made and successful. They taught me how to prove "there is nothing I cant do or have if I want it bad enough"!  My Brother George went on to run my dads second dream, the Forest Park Inn in Gilroy, California where George also bought into a restaurant franchise, The Black Bear Diner. As expected, George's success was no different than the rest of us and often calls upon my bear, "Brandi" for publicity stunts... Dad soon became a major developer in town having developed many restaurants, and even a shopping center and more important, allowing Mom to stop working.

And then, there's me.  For reasons I still don't fully understand, I decided to become a police officer. (I guess school life or the business world was  just a little too boring...)  I attended the Gavilan College West Coast Police Academy under the uniform of the Monterey County Sheriffs Department. Upon Graduation, I remained a deputy with M.C.S.O. for one year before transferring to the Seaside Police Department, a much more active department.

1985 - 1986    I bought Oxton Kennels, a dog and cat boarding facility as both an investment and a hobby. My intentions were for to run the kennel while I remained in police work. It was toward the end of this period that I adopted "Sam", an elderly cougar I found being held illegally in a garage in Seaside. The owners didn't want the animal any longer and I was able to obtain


permits to adopt him. This was when a "hobby" started getting way out of hand...

The kennel business increased to a point that made going to work for someone else every day unbearable. I resigned as a police officer to help run the kennel and start an educational program called "Wild Things"with my exotic pets .

1986 - 1988  I was blessed with a son and a daughter (the human kind) from a previous marriage.  I  would have never guessed that there could be anything that could give me more to worry about or to be proud of than my animals - I was wrong.

My infatuation with Sam led to an attempt to acquire an even larger cat. I ordered a tiger through an animal broker I had met along the way (it was legal to do such stupid things back then) but when the cub arrived, it was a lion. Opting to keep the lion, the tiger arrived six months later...

1988 - Present    As lion led to tiger, tiger led to bears, bears to monkeys, monkeys to elephants... Eventually, that tiger tried to eat me but the lion, Josef, became my best friend, my star, and the single most important influence on my life that would change the course of my life forever. Impressed by his beauty and special temperament, a trainer in the film industry asked if I would allow Josef to participate in a Dryfus Fund commercial to be filmed at the Grand Canyon, Arizona. I was getting paid to play with my best friend in a warm sunny place. Josef was having a great time. All this excitement coupled with the financial reward was enough to lure anyone into the industry, as it did me.  "Wild Things" became "Wild Things Animal Rentals Inc."

charlie josef b

Today, My little hobby has evolved into something I could have never imagined when it started.  In 1994, we left our 5 acre rented property in North Salinas to move to the largest investment I have ever made, the beautiful 51 acre Vision Quest Ranch located in the sun belt between Monterey and Salinas. 

On July 7th, 2008, Josef passed away and I was faced with continuing without him. On that day I promised him that I would build our animal family a much better home that they and I could one day retire.

Unfortunately (and very unexpectedly), the film industry all but fled California to find much less expensive states and countries to accomplish their filming. This forced me to once again evolve if I was to support my animals and keep my promise to Josef.

It was at that time I began exploring and eventually moving towards the zoo industry, a decision that would benefit all concerned, myself, my animals as well as a community that was very much in need of an alternative activity for their families. In 2011, we achieved our non-profit status and Wild Things Animal Rental Inc. was no longer. We were now formally, Monterey Zoological Society.

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OZ LTB Sillouette HAT design

Fundraising began, as did construction for I litterally do as most of the physical work myself so that the majority of the funds raised can go towards materials. The goal is to transform what was "Wild Things A.R.Inc." into a formal zoo as quickly as possible. Funding the exhibits and necessary property modifications is our greatest challenge today but we're doing our best to move forward. Today, the first of three phases is complete as we just opened our new OZ exhibit, housing our Lions, Tigers, and Bears...

December of 2015 brought yet another gift into my life when I married my wife Lisa who is without a doubt the one person who holds my life, my hopes, my dreams and my sanity in her hands. Together, I have no doubt we will finish this thing and keep that promise I made to a very special friend and lion one day.

IMG_0251 Charlie, Lisa and Moksha

In January of 2020, the zoo was completely finished but our grand-opening was unfortunately delayed due to COVID19, California Fires, and more however we survived those tragic times and even got accredited by the Zoological Assoc of America (ZAA) for our efforts. Today Monterey Zoo is open and continues to evolve and provide many a zoological experience and education in conservation they might otherwise never receive.


Click here to meet other members of the Vision Quest and Monterey Zoo Staff...

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400 River Road   Salinas, CA  93908      (831) 455-1901     Fax (831) 455-1902

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