(Welcome to the) Jungle Habitat, New Jersey’s Craziest Wildlife Park

July 15, 2014

Back in May, we told you about Action Park, the notoriously dangerous New Jersey theme park. While it’s about to be reopened, there’s another destination in the Garden State that’s unlikely to be back anytime soon.

Jungle Habitat New JerseyWarner Brothers opened the troubled wildlife park in West Milford in the summer of 1972. Like many safari-themed zoos still in operation, the 450-acre Jungle Habitat allowed visitors to drive around the grounds while viewing various free-roaming exotic animals like baboons, elephants, giraffes, and even Siberian tigers. There was also a walk through area that featured a petting zoo, a reptile house, and hourly shows starring Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters.

Jungle Habitat’s woes began quickly. A few months after it opened, a tourist named Abraham Levy hired a taxi to drive him and his friends through the park. He ignored several signs warning him to keep the taxi’s windows rolled up and suffered the consequences. When the vehicle entered a pen with 33 lions, one of the big cats pushed down Levy’s partially open window and tried to, well, eat his head. A park attendant managed to scare the lion away by hitting it with his Jeep and Levy was rushed to an area hospital with serious injuries

A few years later, another visitor was attacked by a baby elephant, and eventually won a $200,000 settled against the park.

The enclosures at Jungle Habitat obviously weren’t study enough to keep many of its dangerous critters from escaping and running amok through West Milford. Rumors, most of them exaggerated or entirely fabricated, claimed that kangaroos and monkeys were living in nearby woods, and that a pack of baboons raided a local pharmacy. During its final years, the park was poorly managed and many of its animals got sick. After city officials blocked plans for an expansion, Warner pulled the plug in 1976.

That just led to more rumors. One claimed that Jungle Habitat was closed down so quickly that many of its wild residents were left to fend for themselves while the carcasses of others rotted out in the open. The stories sparked the curiosity of countless urban explorers but at least a few of them were untrue—the still living animals were sold to other wildlife parks around the country.

In recent years, efforts have been made to clean up the property and turn it into a recreational area. It’s now frequented by mountain bikers, hikers and dog walkers. However, a local bike shop continues to honor the old park with an annual “Rumble in the Jungle” race through the park. Still, the rumors and urban legends persist. Some claim that the occasional wild kangaroo can spotted hopping through the nearby woods.