Carmel Magazine

Summer/Fall 2020

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112 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 African creature a safe place to live. "Can't release those into the wild," Sammut chuckles. The elephants came from a carnival. Two squirrel monkeys arrived, one from the Playboy Mansion. Animals are rarely purchased or sold but rather trad- ed with other programs for educa- tion and conservation. "To be recognized as a real zoo is a dream come true because now, we have access to animals in other zoos." Sammut says. "They breed to help populate the species. The strictest guidelines are adhered to so there is no overpopulation. We should be able to reproduce any- thing so that we never lose any (species) again. That's the purpose of zoos. We are the insurance for all species now, and if we don't know how to reproduce some- thing, we need to learn how so that in the event there's a tragedy in the wild, we have a means to repopulate and never lose another species." A bare-bones operating budget—being exer- cised during the pandemic—means the zoo needs $1,000,000 dollars a year to survive. The elephants, alone, each eat $200 worth of food every day. Feeling the pinch of COVID-related closures, Sammut has been able to secure gov- ernmental disaster relief loans. But it was a social media campaign called "Our Little Zoo to You" that's pleasantly surprised him the most, raising $250,000 in just three months. In generous Monterey County, "anonymous" donors have written checks to create big-cat enclosures and enhance facilities. Other admirers send in what they can, maybe $5 or $10, to ensure that the animals can remain well-cared for. Sammut prom- ises to remain a dedicated steward for the animals and the donations, keeping his eye on his two goals. "Once the virus passes, we'll get back to two focal points: kids and conservation," he says. "We have kids in Monterey County who won't get to Santa Barbara or San Francisco to see a zoo. I've had chil- dren on the property who think a lion is a tiger. We will be focusing on our programs for children when things get back to normal." Sammut's other focus is working with other conservation programs from around the world, continuing his work to ensure that all the animals living at the zoo will be in existence as long as there are humans to ooh, ahh, and interact with them. For more information, go to Sammut and his wife Lisa have seen a dream become a reality as they visit with one of their favorite "children," Taz the badger. Odin and Thor, two of the zoo's four Bengal tigers, are often seen enjoying the large open spaces their new home affords them as well as a swimming pool, waterfall and much more. "LIONS, TIGERS and BEARS" adorn the zoo's awesome "OZ" Exhibit.

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