Jungle Habitat, which was in West Milford, in Passaic County, New Jersey, United States, was a Warner Bros.-owned theme park that opened in the summer of 1966, and closed in October 1976. By November 1972, the park had 500,000 paid visitors. The park contained over 1,500 animals; it consisted of a drive-through section and a walk-through section. The drive-through section was an animal safari park and the walk-through area was called Jungle Junction.
The park featured a drive-through safari section, which allowed for wild animals to roam free and approach vehicles as they slowly drove through. Drivers and their passenger(s) could observe peacocks, baboons, camels, elephants, llamas, giraffes, and Siberian tigers in this section, either in their cars or on a Jungle Habitat bus. Many of the animals would climb atop the cars, and/or walk in front of vehicles, bringing them to a halt. Signs were posted along the route to warn visitors to keep their windows closed. Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey, approximately 100 miles (160 km) to the south, also had (and still has) a similar type of drive-through safari attraction.
The walk-through section was a small theme park which included a petting zoo, camel and elephant rides, snack bars, gift shop, reptile house, dolphin show, and Bugs Bunny and Friends shows including live Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters. A small tram station here was called Jungle Junction. The park did not have amusement-style rides, although there were plans (which never materialized) to add them in the spring of 1977.
Shortly after the park opened, a tourist, Abraham Levy, driving through the safari in a taxi was attacked by a lion on October 19, 1972, bringing negative publicity to the park. In 1974, a woman was bitten by a baby elephant who had reached out of its enclosure with its trunk and grabbed the woman; she ultimately was awarded $200,000 for her injuries.
The park was plagued by problems, including reports of dangerous animals escaping into the nearby residential areas. Several of the park's animals had contracted tuberculosis and were euthanized. In addition, the increase in summertime and weekend traffic on West Milford's roads created problems for local residents.
The park was initially profitable. However, business declined gradually as it failed to attract repeat business without changing its attractions or adding new ones. In 1975, Warner Bros. proposed a $20 million expansion project to the site. The project would include a large wooden roller coaster, a steel junior coaster, a carousel, log flume, plus adult spinning rides, and a few "kiddie" rides. The township's residents were divided on whether or not to approve such a project. The potential for further traffic congestion was a major issue.
Closure and current status
The park opened as usual during the summer of 1976, with rumors of a big expansion planned for the following summer. The park's last weekend in operation was Halloween weekend. On November 2, township residents narrowly voted against the expansion. Following the vote, Warner Bros. decided to shut the park down and sell the land. After the park closed, newspapers reported that several animal carcasses, including an elephant, had been left there to decay. Competition from Great Adventure, combined with poor management and the park's inability to easily expand, may have contributed to the demise of Jungle Habitat.
For years after it closed, the site's deteriorated buildings remained, and rumors of animals still roaming the property attracted curiosity seekers. Accounts of such explorations were published in Weird NJ magazine, and on its website. None of the animal-based rumors are true; the animals were sold to buyers across the country.
The 800-acre (3.2 km2) Jungle Habitat property, containing 26 miles (42 km) of paved roads, was purchased by the state in 1988 for $1,450,000. The property, adjacent to Norvin Green State Forest, is part of Long Pond Ironworks State Park and is administered by Ringwood State Park. In 2007, under the direction of Ringwood State Park, the Ramapo Valley Cycling Club (a chapter of the Jersey Off Road Bicycle Association JORBA) performed a cleanup of the park, with 70 volunteers contributing. Brush was cleared and trash was removed. More recently, under the management of Ringwood State Park, JORBA built single-track trails designed for bicycle, equestrian, and foot traffic. There were 11 to 12 miles of single-track trails by 2008.[needs update]
There was negotiation between West Milford and New Jersey to lease the 10-acre (40,000 m2) macadam parking lot for recreational use. In recent years,[when?] the property was used to host West Milford's Fourth of July celebrations (known as "Thunder in the Highlands") under a special-use permit. A local bicycle shop sponsors "Rumble in the Jungle", an annual mountain bike race. The area has become popular with dog walkers, mountain bikers, trail runners, equestrians, and black bears.
- Laplaca, Bryan. "Back in the Day - Oct. 8, 1997: 'Hal from North Bergen' sued Bloomingdale", Suburban Trends, October 15, 2012. Accessed September 22, 2014. "The man in the picture is Abraham Levy who was in the intensive care unit of Chilton Hospital in Pompton Plains. He was bitten by a lion while visiting Jungle Habitat in West Milford.... Two eyewitnesses to the mauling of Levy on Oct. 9, 1972 blasted the Habitat management for allowing what they called dangerous conditions to exist."
- The Region: $200,000 for Woman In Elephant-Bite Suit., The New York Times, p. B4. Accessed August 15, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 111348438).
- Hudson, Edward. "Habitat Neighbors Fear Possible Animal Escapes", The New York Times, December 16, 1972. Accessed September 22, 2014.
- Hanley, Robert. "Decaying Animal Carcasses Found Unburied at Site of Jungle Habitat", The New York Times, April 6, 1977. Accessed September 22, 2014. "At least two dozen dead animals have been left unburied at the site of the former Jungle Habitat drive through zoo here and state and local officials today began looking into any possible hazards posed by the decaying carcasses."
- Jungle Habitat: Wild and Abandoned in NJ
- Rumble in the Jungle bike race, sponsored by Town Cycle.
- Official website
- Jungle Safaris
- "West Milford - Many still wrangling over Jungle Habitat site". 2006 article by Sharbari Bose about plans for the former park, online at the New York New Jersey Trail Conference site
- Jungle Habitat. Personal blog post of memories and pictures of Jungle Habitat.
- Historical overview of the park and e-museum. Contains images, all news articles and historical facts from former employees. Maintained by Gwen Marquardt