Jungle Habitat was one of the first big zoos to be established in NJ. The park was owned by Warner Bros, who also owned Great Adventure. The park opened in summer 1972, and within a few months was the subject of controversy as a tourist was mauled by lions after opening his car window, and local residents reported animals that had escaped. There were also reports of animal mistreatment. After 4 years, the park closed and the Safari at Six Flags opened.
The story of what happened when it closed is the subject of much speculation and rumor. Animals that were healthy were transferred to other zoos, but sickly animals were supposedly killed. Unfortunately it was the middle of the winter and the ground was frozen, so stories abound that they left the carcasses to rot. Many animals reportedly escaped into the wild, and recently a rare white Indonesian peacock that was spotted on Clinton Rd. There’s little doubt where it came from considering the rarity.
In the days before Weird NJ introduced the idea of urban exploration to millions of young peoplel, few people explored the former JH property perhaps because of the rumors that tigers and lions still roamed the grounds. Eventually vandals and explorers did come and they scavenged the lastg elements of Jungle Habitat. Time and the elements did the rest. The 800 acres property was bought by the state in 1988 for 1.45 million, but it sits there today, unused, criss-crossed by 26 miles of roads and by a giant 3,000 car parking lot. It is legal to hike there, as it state property. I have explored and there really is hardly anything left to see.
Sattelite view of the former Jungle Habitat site.
Sattelite view of the parking lot and nearby airport.
THE FUTURE OF THE PROPERTY
In the early 90’s, an organization called Extreme Habitat proposed turning the site into a BMX/ATV/Motocross playground. They promised that all bikes would have noise silencers and that the environment would be respected. Here is an interesting summary of some of the ATV park proposals. Not believing that either promise would be kept, and fearful of the traffic and other problems that JH brought with it, the plan was not well received. Eventually the West Milford residents and politicians said “Not here”, and the plan was rejected. In 2007, the State purchased a 224 acre former strip mine in Monroe, Gloucester County. Here, and at a second planned site in Ocean County will provide ATV riders with a legal place to ride,
In 2007 and 2008 a carnival/fair was held in the old parking lot.
There have been discussions about turning the 800 acre site into a destination for hiking, or converting some of the land to ball fields. As of December 2008 it seems as if these plans may become a reality. According to this article the town may lease anywhere from 30-60 acres, mostly comprised of the giant parking lot and surrounding land, and convert them into athletic fields. No word what will happen tot eh other 90% of the park though.
former employee webpage.
1970’s ad for the park
One person’s memories and photos of Jungle Habitat.