Jungle Habitat

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.

RECENT EVENTS

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.

Weird NJ article about Jungle Habitat.

former employee webpage.

1970’s ad for the park

One person’s memories and photos of Jungle Habitat.

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by MN on July 3, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    With regard to Philip’s post about the “air raid sirens” in West Milford. I’ve lived here for eleven years and for the first few years there was a siren every day at noon, I believe. I always assumed the sirens were to alert the volunteer ambulance and that the daily test was to make sure it worked.

    Reply

  2. Posted by carol on May 18, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    More information when it comes available.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Charles on March 18, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    Nice site, lots of cool information. I would love to get a copy of your jungle Habitat map. Is it possible to somehow get a copy? Could you scan one? I grew up near it and have hiked through a couple times. I really want to identify what I am seeing. I hope you will consider it. Thanks.

    Reply

  4. Posted by ceasar on March 18, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    I remember Jungle Habitat and I felt real sad when it closed. One of these days Im going to trek back up there and try to remember where everything was.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Jonathan on March 18, 2009 at 11:21 AM

    Great pictures of Jungle Habitat and its items. I actually went to JH yesterday and the gates were open for a circus. I drove in with my car and it seems as if they are starting to clear up the park more. I also and wondering if the booklet you showed in the pictures has a map, so it would be easy to find certain areas.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Frank on March 18, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    I went to JH as a child and was amazed by it all. I thought is was the greatest thing since \\\\\\\”white Bread\\\\\\\”. I wish it was still there, just as it was. Or maybe i would just be happy to see the old grounds where it once stood. How do i find it?

    Reply

  7. Posted by Stephanie on March 18, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    hey, i was just wondering if you know where you can park that\\\\\\\’s close by to jungle habitat for exploring? because the last time we went we just parked in front of the gate and only stayed a short time. do you know if you are allowed to park at the airport? please get back to me soon if you could

    Reply

  8. Posted by Patrick on March 18, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    I remember going to Jungle Habitat as a young child in the 1970’s. I do have some slides of the park and the characters. One memory I have is when a lioness attempting to catch a duck squeezed underneath my father’s Pinto. Yes, the lions were allowed to go up to your car then

    Reply

  9. Posted by Tom Fox on March 18, 2009 at 9:40 AM

    My mom talked about you often during the time period that she worked at Jungle Habitat. I always thought is was so cute watching her go off to work in her jungle safari outfit including safari shorts. She was a guard/ information person that worked inside of the park and spent most of her time in the areas near the animals. Boy did she tell some fun, interesting stories…I will look through the family archives for pictures etc…Sincerely,

    Reply

  10. Posted by anonymous on March 18, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    Just wanted to let you know how much I love the Jungle Habitat page. I was there as a kid. Thanks for the memories!!

    Reply

  11. Posted by Phillip on March 17, 2009 at 9:35 AM

    Concerning Jungle Habitat; I spoke to my dad who still lives in West Milford, (I now live in Charlotte, N.C.), and asked him if he had any other info. He asked that his name be kept out of all of this, which means please do not use my last name.

    My dad was an accountant for Jungle Habitat in 1972. He said that Warner Brothers owned the park and ran it strictly as a business venture. The bottom line was so important that the corporate office had to be reported to every hour the park was open and update the day’s receipts, hour-by-hour. The Park closed because it wanted to expand into an amusement park that had thrill park rides, (roller coaster, log flume, etc.). The town of West Milford was deeply divided on allowing the park to expand and held some type of referendum about allowing the park to expand or not. The park expansion was voted down by a very slight margin. Jungle Habitat responded by purchasing a large interest in Great Adventure in south Jersey and put all of its eggs in that basket instead of trying to make it work in West Milford. The big issue for the people of West Milford was traffic. West Milford is a rural town that has virtually nothing but two lane roads. The Jungle Habitat traffic pretty much bottle-necked the entire town every weekend, which grew to be a big pain for the locals.

    Another aspect of Jungle Habitat that was pretty interesting was it suffered multiple animal escapes over the years. I know for a fact that a large type of stork escaped and wound up in a buddy of mine’s back yard. The animal handlers had to come out and recapture the dodo. It was also common knowledge that the baboons were master escape artists and it is a commonly held understanding that multiple baboons escaped from the park over the years. Whenever a neighborhood cat or dog would disappear it would be blamed on the gang of baboons that trampled through the local woods.

    The worst part of the park was the fact that as a business first and a zoo second, very few people who worked for the park actually knew anything about keeping large, exotic animals. The harsh weather of northern New Jersey was never really factored in when it came to keeping the animals. I remember seeing photographs of a dead elephant in the local newspaper, (the now defunct West Milford Argus). When the park opened it had an enclosure that kept several tortoises. None of them survived the first winter, which of course was bemoaned by the employees and their families who knew that the animals were left outside and froze to death. A few years later the park brought in alligators. The alligators did not survive the year either. When the public referendum failed, the park closed fairly quickly and sent its animal collection to other zoos, but some sick or elderly animals were left behind to die and rot, which further perpetuated the rumors that animals had escaped the zoo.

    Also, I did ask my parents if they had any photos and they didn’t think they did, but would look. If I find anything the next time I’m home I’ll be happy to share it with you.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Phillip on March 17, 2009 at 9:33 AM

    I just located your Jungle Habitat site and it really brought back a lot of memories that are very special to me. I grew up in West Milford and moved out when I was 17 years old. My father worked for Warner Brothers as an accountant in the 70’s and specifically worked for Jungle Habitat. The times we spent at the park rivaled anything I had ever experienced in any Walt Disney Park in my young life. To have the opportunity to drive through the safari and drive past the lions, tigers, bears, camels and baboons was always a thrill.

    One of the coolest childhood memories I have was the West Milford air raid siren. I know this sounds unbelievable, but for decades West Milford, “tests,” the air raid siren at 6:30 P.M. every day. I have no idea why, but it just became a critical part of the town’s identity. The really cool thing was the animals became conditioned to associate the air raid siren with their feeding time. So for several years and during the summer months specifically, whenever the siren ran its course in the evening the siren would immediately be followed by the distant roar of lions and tigers across the entire town. The roars of the lions and tigers would carry for miles. I don’t care who you are, living in a town with roaring lions and tigers calling for their dinner is a pretty great thing.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Samantha on March 9, 2009 at 10:58 PM

    I guess i should start out by telling you that Jungle Habitat is my muse. I’m a big fan of abandoned places in New Jersey, but once hearing of this vacant drive thru I immediately became awed. Something about it catches my interest like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve driven up there many times but have yet to walk through it. Once the warmer weather comes I plan on spending the day there. I’ve been on the hunt for Jungle Habitat memorabilia. I haven’t had much luck with that. I was wondering if you could tell me where you have found your stuff.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Helms on March 9, 2009 at 10:57 PM

    I am writing to follow up a post I put on your guestbook. I a looking for a copy of a jungle habitat map and am wondering if you have a scan copy or would be willing to scan or fax a copy. I would be willing to pay for an original copy. please let e know. also I want to tell you that you have a very cool site, lots of fun stuff here. I appreciate your effort in making it so interesting. thanks

    Reply

  15. Posted by Darren on March 9, 2009 at 10:56 PM

    My son and I have a website at http://www.njexplorers.com that we have recently started. We are also mentioned in this latest edition of Weird NJ magazine regarding a rare pheasant we found at Jungle Habitat. I wanted to let you know that it is not illegal to go into the old Jungle Habitat. I also thought it was, so I emailed the State Parks Commission with the following message: I have a question about the former Jungle Habitat site in West Milford. Is it legal to hike in that area? I would like to take my son up there but I want to be sure that it is ok before I do. Thanks for your kind attention to this question. Their response was: It is legal to hike at Jungle Habitat but parking may be an issue and the trails are probably not properly marked.

    Reply

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