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Fourth of July: Fireworks & Folklore

July 4, 2008

 

Jungle Habitat sign

 

 Last night I went to see fireworks show called Thunder in the Highlands with my sister in West Milford, NJ, at a site called “Jungle Habitat”. It was hidden off of a main road that I had driven often, yet I had never once heard of the place. My sister told me she had heard that it used to be a zoo in the 1970’s, but that it was closed suddenly due to a TB outbreak among the animals. Supposedly the animals were left for dead, and the park mysteriously closed without notice.

 

We drove up a long, windy two lane road to get into the park. Once we got to the top of a hill, we came up a large wooden entrance sign. Seeing that the sign was still intact, I was expecting fields and maybe relics of what used to be a zoo inside, but instead was greeted with only concrete.

 

Other than the fact that we had to sit on uneven concrete for several hours, the fireworks were amazing. I had never seen fireworks that close before, and the show was truly magical.

 

Below are a few of my photos from the show.

 

 

 

 

 

So the fourth of July show was great, and I’m a wonderful photographer, blah, blah, blah.

 

Back to Jungle Habitat.

 

I was really interested in the folklore behind the place. So far the only information I had to go on was the rumor my sister had heard, so I researched about Jungle Habitat all this morning. I found various sites with information, including Wikipedia, Weird NJ, and various personal blogs.

 

Jungle Habitat was a drive-thru zoo operated by Warner Bros that opened the summer of 1972, and closed September of 1976. Jungle habitat had over 1,500 animals including lions, rhinos, bears, llamas, giraffes, elephants, baboons, and a dozen siberian tigers.The animals were free to roam thru the park, and would walk right up to patrons’ cars. I was only able to find two reports of serious injury; kind of amazing when you realize they basically let people go unsupervised in a pseudo-jungle.

 

jungle3

 Click here for the Jungle Habitat Map

 

The following photos are curtosey of IDFlux

 

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Lions

Ostrich

This is where the story begins to differ, and perhaps folklore begins to take over. According to Wikipedia, Jungle Habitat closed because the town voted against a much needed amusement park expansion around the same time that Six Flags Great Adventure opened. This was said to put Jungle Habitat out of business.

 

In my option, the problem with this story is that anyone who lives in Northern NJ knows what a hike it is to get to Great Adventure. In fact, the two parks are 90 miles apart. While the park undoubtedly was host to a large population of NYC residents, I can’t imagine it going out of business just because of another park opening. First of all, the two parks were wildly different. Secondly, there are other parks that were open on or around that time that subsequently thrived. Space Farms is a small zoo located 45 minutes away Sussex NJ has been opened since 1927, and to be honest it’s pretty much a shithole. Also, the infamous Action Park opened in nearby Vernon in 1978, and has been open ever since. Lastly, Jungle Habitat seemed like it would have been a popular spot for local families to visit, as opposed to driving two hours south for a day trip to Great Adventure.

 

The other story is the animals fell ill (perhaps with TB), and the park was abandoned.

Jungle1

 

The rumors of what HAPPENED after the park closed is where this story takes a gruesome turn.

Regardless of whether the park’s demise was caused by lack of visitors or health issues, both stories state that the sick animals were left to fend for themselves. Apparently the park was simply abandoned, and when the owners came back there were several dead animals on the premise. Since it was the dead of winter, the animal carcasses could not be buried in the frozen winter soil, and were left rotting until the following spring. There is no note on what illnesses the animals may have had, or exactly how many were left to die. Reportedly, there were 30+ animal carcasses buried the following spring, however there are rumors of many more animals getting free.

 

Babboon

 

According to one source, the only animals that got free were baboons, emus and peacocks. According to rumors, many more animals broke free and survive to this day in the woods of West Milford.
While I may never know what really happened to Jungle Habitat, I am now completly intrigued by the story. I love how everyone seems to have their own opinion on what occured. On a final note, I was talking to my mom today about the fireworks last night, and asked her if she had ever heard of the place. Her responce was a nostalgic “Oh wow, yeah! Me and your dad went there years ago… the animals were abandoned and broke out. The stories are true. You know that’s why we have mountain lions in the woods, right?”
  

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More Info:

Wikipedia’s article on Jungle Habitat

Jungle Habitat Souvenirs

Another Jungle Habitat Site

 

Weird NJ

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One comment

  1. a 2 hour drive to great adventure isn’t too bad considering i could meet you there!!! just kidding. i love the mystery behind the jungle place. crazy shit.



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