Carmel Magazine

Summer/Fall 2020

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C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • S U M M E R / F A L L 2 0 2 0 109 Monterey Zoo offers private full-contact tours that afford guests the ability to interact with animals in a very personal way. The belief is that sometimes it's best to let the animals themselves show why they are so worthy of our love and support. located. Despite having to skip its scheduled grand opening due to COVID-19, and not yet advertising, there's a steady stream of guests, all wearing masks. Visitors point and giggle at the monkeys. Children catalogue the exotic animals in awe. Eleven-year- old twins, Sean and Shyla from Las Vegas, were enamored with the giant tortoises and the bearcat, offi- cially a Binturong named Doc. "We love it here," they say. "We haven't gotten to see these animals anywhere else." Owen, a 14-year-old from Carmel, sauntered through the property with relatives who were visiting from the Bay Area. "My favorite is the black leopard," he says. "He just looks lethal! I'd think you'd have to go more south to see some- thing like this," he said excitedly. "You don't have to drive far. It's not packed. It's great." Sammut and his crew know that most visitors and their phones can't be parted, so they posted QR codes—scan codes for phones—that allow visitors to see three-minute videos of the ani- mals as babies and interacting with caretakers. "You can't fight technology, so we use it to reel-in people's interests," Sammut says, adding they also cut down on waste by not having paper maps. Another unique touch is the tribute to Sammut's first lion and best friend Josef, whose likeness is stamped into cement in many places throughout the zoo. Despite the successes, Sammut is up against some detractors. An extremist animal activist group has demanded that he surrender his ele- phants to them, despite the ele- phants living on a five-acre pas- ture that includes heated indoor barns, a huge watering pool, toys, several other animal species as roommates and much more. "Sanctuaries can be great," he says. "But for animals like Butch (the elephant) who need medical care every day, it's not an option. He could die within months at a sanctuary. Here, we can treat his chronic injury every day while still offering him a wonderful quality of life. Can we give all animals what they have spatially in the wild? Of course not. But we try to substitute what they don't get in the wild with something better in captivity, a ' We have kids in Monterey County who won't get to Santa Barbara or San Francisco to see a zoo. I've had children on the property who think a lion is a tiger.'

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