Monterey Zoo Sued Over Weapon Used on Elephants

PETA Asks Court to Stop Roadside Zoo From Defying Animal- and Worker-Protection Laws—and Send Elephants to Accredited Sanctuary

For Immediate Release:
August 11, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382

Salinas, Calif. – This morning, PETA filed a lawsuit in the Monterey County Superior Court against the Monterey Zoo and its president, Charlie Sammut, alleging that the facility engages in unlawful business practices by using canes to threaten and control elephants in violation of state laws. PETA’s lawsuit asks the court to order the roadside zoo to stop this cruel practice immediately, move the elephants to an accredited sanctuary, and prohibit it and Sammut from owning or exhibiting elephants ever again.

California has banned bullhooks—weapons that resemble a fireplace poker with a sharp hook on one end—and other devices “designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of an elephant,” and the state’s worker safety laws require employers to provide safe places of employment. The Monterey Zoo is the only facility in California that controls elephants by using old, circus-style “free contact,” in which handlers share the same unrestricted space with elephants and use domination, force, and punishment to make them obey.

“California has banned nearly all animal circuses, county fairs and theme parks have stopped offering elephant rides, and Hollywood elephant trainers have fled the state—but the Monterey Zoo is still using the threat of physical pain to control elephants,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is asking the court to stop this facility from breaking the law at elephants’ and workers’ expense.”

In June 2018, a handler at the Monterey Zoo took “aggressive action” toward an elephant named Paula. She stepped on, “began thrashing,” and threw the handler—who sustained a broken back and ankle and was hospitalized—while a second worker beat her with a cane. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health subsequently cited the roadside zoo for failing to ensure a safe work environment, and PETA recently called on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to revoke Sammut’s restricted species permit for apparently failing to report the incident and for apparent violations of the state’s ban on using weapons on elephants.

PETA also recently obtained necropsies for Paula and another elephant named Kristy, both of whom died at the Monterey Zoo. Paula, who was euthanized in January 2019 after she was unable to stand, had severe osteochondrosis, a painful joint condition that typically results in lameness, joint swelling, and a reduced range of motion. Kristy died in October 2019 from a severe bacterial infection that was causing her intestinal tissue to rot away.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind