I’m always a little bit sad when I get to the end of a feature series, because I know all good things come to an end even though there is always so much more to share. And this is definitely the case with this feature series about Monterey.
But I couldn’t leave you without sharing the love for two very unique excursions that truly deserve honorable mentions.
The “Animal Whisperer”
Located about 20 minutes inland from downtown Monterey in the picturesque Salinas Valley you will find the Monterey Zoo/Vision Quest Ranch.
The attraction is unlike any other zoo or wild animal environment anywhere in the country. It was started by Charlie Sammut, a Salinas native and former Seaside, CA police officer who has always had a rich affinity and love for pets.
In the early 80s, he slowly began transforming his passion for animals into a career as the proprietor of “Wild Things,” through which he provided his growing cadre of lovingly and expertly cared for and trained animals in films, TV, commercials, and photography.
His “family members” included a lion, bear, leopard, birds, monkeys and other creatures which not only starred in productions, but also became the center of his transition to people-focused animal education when the film industry began to leave California.
What visitors will find here today is a beautiful 51-acre property set on rolling hills at the foot of the mountains where some 180 animals—all named, from the cockroaches to the elephants—live and teach humans more about themselves, than they do about animals.
Sammut’s goal is to teach people what are and are not pets, and how many often mistake the vision (i.e. “I think it would be cool to have a _______”) from the realities of what having and properly caring for that type of pet entails.
“Once people learn why animals are deserving of our care and support, that we share the planet, and that our relationship is such that one can’t live without the other, then they can walk away feeling an animal is worthy of saving,” says Sammut.
A wide variety of former pets, animals injured in the wild, creatures confiscated by regulatory entities, retired performance animals, animals from over-capacity rehabilitation centers, places and the like now live here (either permanently or temporarily) and are raised with true, hands-on, human contact.
It was amazing to walk around the property with Sammut and see so many animals run, jump or flock to their enclosure doors to greet him: Forest the monkey, Edward the hyena, Alexandria the great horned owl, Cosmo the cougar, Baby the Toco toucan, Moksha and Rajani the female white Bengal tigers…the list goes on.
Moreover, Sammut never breeds or sells any animal, often donates animals to help other entities, and personally ensures that all animals will have a good home before they leave the property.
“For us, it’s never been about the money,” says Sammut. “We want people who come here to be able to get closer to the animals than elsewhere, and we are taking steps to get them out of their cages and into new viewing areas.”
Sammut and staff are currently in the midst of an extensive expansion project that will include a new tiger exhibit area; a larger, unique five-acre elephant, water buffalo, zebra and ostrich enclosure, an extravagant ADA compliant ramp system, and other elements.
During a visit, you can engage in a one hour walking tour with elephant “meet and greets;” full contact, hands-on tours lasting from a few hours to a full day for the more adventurous enthusiasts; and their summer safari sleepover camps for kids of all ages.
Adults also have an option of lodging in their Safari Bed & Breakfast which offers “a touch of Africa right here in Monterey County.” Here, guests enjoy a stay in a high-end, authentic, African bungalow which includes continental breakfast delivered via an elephant, as well as daily walks with many of the animals with their personal trainers. It is a very unique opportunity to learn more about the rescue, rehabilitation and care that is so necessary for these creatures to survive and thrive.
We’ve got one last unique diversion coming up!
Read the entire feature series!
Part 1 – The Wonder and Beauty of Monterey, CA
Part 2 – Beautiful Monterey Today
Part 3 – Delightful Lodging in and around Monterey
Part 4 – Celebrating Monterey’s Fine Arts
Part 5 – Talk to the Animals in Monterey
Part 6 – A Unique Excursion near Monterey