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Monterey Zoo ranks #5 on list of worst zoos for elephants by In Defense of Animals


SALINAS, Calif. (KION) The Monterey Zoo in Salinas ranked #5 on the top ten list of worst zoos for elephants in North America by In Defense of Animals (IDA)

Concerns raised the IDA state elephants are dying at younger ages at the Monterey Zoo by zoo standards along with concerns of potential spread of zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis through human to animal interaction.

On Tuesday, Charlie Sammut, Director of the Monterey Zoo expressed disappointment for the list.

“These elephants are all retired  from circuses or carnivals and these people are suggesting that because we’re sharing them with people, because we allow people to meet them and interact with them, it’s a bad thing?" says Sammut.

Will Anderson, an Elephant Campaign Coordinator for the IDA says the ranking was based on data collected by sources observing practices at the Monterey Zoo as well as records kept for the animals.

“There are a lot of red flags that we saw when we started looking at the Monterey Zoo given the nature of how it was founded, the person finding it and I’m sure he felt sincerely about what he was doing but they are not the standards of a true accredited zoo, it’s not a sanctuary by any chance," says Anderson.

Anderson says one of the biggest concerns is elephants dying at much younger rates than others per zoo standards.

“They suggested that our average age was 22 years…completely false. Not one of our elephants that passed away was anywhere near 22, it was 38, 37, unfortunately that is the average age of losing an elephant in captivity," says Sammut.

Sammut also addressed the IDA's concerns of disease transmission between humans and the elephants.

“They won’t find an elephant that died as old as the one we lost recently, Paula, at fifty something years old, that is in the top ninety percent of the older elephants in captivity and I walk around the county and I see that we took precautions far beyond the scope of what was being asked of us," says Sammut.

Sammut says the Monterey Zoo has been able to care for up to five elephants with the help of animal care experts and veterinarians on hand.

Currently, there is one elephant at the Monterey Zoo but Sammut says they are not sure if it will remain on site.

The IDA argues the elephants would be better off at a sanctuary accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries as opposed to remaining at the zoo.

“I believe it was PETA who got a tip that there was not only elephants disappearing, but there was an attack on a trainer by an elephant while the trainer allegedly was reprimanding or putting an elephant in control. We aren’t looking for defamation, we’re looking for facts," says Anderson.

Local animal care experts and humane officers in Monterey County say they have not received any complaints for the Monterey Zoo.

Central Coast / Monterey County / Top Stories

Jocelyn Ortega

Jocelyn Ortega is a multi-media journalist at KION News Channel 5/46.



  1. Interesting. I have been to that zoo a few years ago. I just assumed that they were in the best of care. I know housing retired circus or carnival elephants must have an effect on how long those elephants live compared to typical zoo elephants., if typical is a fair comparison.

  2. We realize there was only so much time to air the information we provided in our interview yesterday but we feel it is important for all in our community who contributed so greatly to bringing Monterey County its very first accredited zoo to know what did not air. To know that our zoo was only listed by IDA on their list because of a law suit PETA filed against our zoo, attempting to take our elephants away from us and close our zoo in 2020. They attempted to strike us when they knew the pandemic rendered the weakest due to closures and isolation orders.

    And YES, we are accredited by the Zoological Assoc. of America. Oddly (and hypocritically), Mr. Anderson speaks against our accreditation and asks that all elephants be sent to a sanctuary that is accredited by “another accrediting organization” however the TOP TWO ZOOS on his “hit-list” are in fact accredited by that other organization…

    Mr. Anderson also failed to mention that the Superior Court in Monterey County as well as the US Dept. of Agriculture and the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife found PETA’s allegations to be completely false and threw out their law suit. That was followed by a judgement that now requires PETA to pay the zoos legal fees for having to defend itself against their false allegations. But PETA’s goal was never to win, only to challenge our financial ability to defend ourselves as their funding is endless due to their misleading and falsified campaigns.

    IDA goes after EVERY zoo that cares for elephants! Their goal is to remove all elephants (if not animals) from captivity and have them sent to sanctuaries where it is very documented, the death rate and conditions are far worse than the zoos they come from. The one “accredited” sanctuary they speak of requires that the elephants be kept indoors on concrete many months of the year due to inclement weather. They have also been documented for housing TB infected elephants, two of many reasons we would never send an elephant to such a facility.

    This zoo was built by this very caring and generous community, a community that host a world renown rodeo that has suffered greatly from such terrorism. We simply want all to know that the rhetoric in IDA’s press release and list is in fact false and aimed at achieving their very hidden agenda!
    In truth, we regret that it even got this much recognition from our local community media however we appreciate the ability to respond with the truth.

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