This was a park owned by Warner Brothers which opened on July 15, 1972 in West Milford, New Jersey. The
park was a $10 million enterprise. By November 1972, the park had over 500,000 paying visitors ($3.75 per
adult and $2.00 per child).
The concept was a drive thru safari in which animals would roam freely, similar to ones found today near
Disney World Florida. The park also had “jungle rangers” who would poke animals with a long pole if the
animals would refuse to come close enough for patrons’ inspections. Richard Needleman was the manager of
In October 1972 two qualified animal observers, Robert Zappalorti and Saul Friess visited Jungle Habitat. The
temperature that day was 44 degrees and there was snow on the ground. A herd of about twenty elephants
were standing outside shivering together while 40 giant tortoises looked like were sick as they also were
shivering on an outdoor platform. Upon return to the park later that month, the tortoise population had gone
from 40 to 25 and later to 8. Within a few months this place was the subject of controversy. An Israeli tourist
named Abraham Levy was riding through the safari in a taxicab, when he decided to roll down the window to
get a better look at some of the animals roaming around. Two lions attacked the car and mauled the 26 year
old tourist, causing not only lacerations to his face and shoulder, but a ton of negative publicity to be brought
upon the park. The negative attention died down shortly however, when Levy publicly took responsibility for the
There were also reports of animal mistreatment.
I received a copy of a newspaper article from the Herald News by staff writer Roni Breite with the headline
“Dead Animals Found Strewn Throughout Jungle Habitat”. The article is from April 1977 and it says that six
large decayed and decapitated animal carcasses had been discovered at the site of Warner Brothers Jungle
Habitat safari park that closed in October. This included an elephant carcass who’s head was found 100 feet
away from its body! There was also a ripped open camel stomach found on a nearby road within the park.
Another article printed in the same paper in April 1977 noted that 30 carcasses were found in the park where
300 remaining animals lived.
The park apparently closed to the public in October 1976
So where’s the mystery? What’s the urban legend?
WeirdNJ syas ” If there were a Weird New Jersey Hall of Fame, Jungle Habitat would undoubtedly be one of
the first sites listed among its prestigious ranks”
The park was left abandoned and dangerous animals escaped and were seen around West Milford
The park closed in October 1976. The only reports of any animals breaking out of this park were two baboons,
an emu, and peacocks.
It is not that uncommon for animals to attempt to breakout of zoos. If that intrigues you to drive there to possibly
see the place where a peacock escaped over 25 years ago, so be it.
Lions and Tigers and Bears oh my
Another version of the story is that Jungle Habitat owners abandoned the park, animals and all, and then
animals escaped and interbred
This story doesn’t even make sense. If a business was losing money, they would not leave it up and running to
fend for itself. Obviously Warner Brothers had to pay taxes to maintain that property. Animals such as lions and
tigers are valuable assetts to zoos and would be sold. Another thing with this, any owner of exotic animals has
to be legally liscenced and in the cases of zoo owners, federal agencies oversee the treatment of the animals
but wait I heard a story that they let the animals die and at one point 30 carcasses were left lying
around until eventual burial
Hmm. I would think animal rights activists would have been all over this one. Why were there no charges
brought against Jungle Habitat? Perhaps coincidentally The West Milford Animal Shelter opened in October
1976 (the same month and year Jungle Habitat closed). If by slim chance this story was truthful, what is the
appeal of going there? To see where a camel carcass was over 25 years ago?
What about the story that the owner stole money and let all the animals loose
Who would the owner be stealing money from? I would think the owner would be on top of the money pyramid.
Regardless of that if someone stole money, do you think they’d try to slickly get away or would they draw
massive attention by letting loose animals? I don’t really consider letting loose the animals a diversion tactic
either. Picture it, West Milford, 1976, the thief one night decides to let the animals loose. He walks around from
cage to cage, gate to gate opening the doors. Would the animals not attack him? Would the animals not
attack each other leaving carcasses behind? Either way, this would have been national news if it was truthful
But I saw a large animal in the woods
People seem to forget that bobcats and bears roam the woods in that area, which is their natural habitat.
ok fine, so then why has this place been left sitting idle for years
The 800 acres property was bought by the state in 1988 for 1.45 million, and it is designated as a Special
Resource Area by the State Planning Commission because of its critical natural resource values, similar to the
situation of Riviera Maya Mexico in that country.The site is located in the “Wyanokie Highlands,” an area
identified by the Highlands Coalition as one of the Critical Treasures of the Highlands Region; and the site
contains headwaters of two trout production, Category One streams, Hewitt Brook and Westbrook, that feed
the Wanaque Reservoir System, on which nearly 2 million people depend for their drinking water; and
according to New Jersey Surface Water Quality Standards, N.J.A.C. 7:9B, Category One waters means those
waters designated for purpose of implementing the anti-degradation policies set forth at N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.5(d)
for protection from measurable changes in water quality characteristics because of their clarity, color, scenic
setting, other characteristics of aesthetic value, exceptional ecological significance, exceptional recreational
significance, exceptional water supply significance, or exceptional fisheries resource(s); The site is also
located in the Wanaque Watershed/Wyanokie Highlands – an area identified by the U.S.D.A./ Forest Service
Highlands Regional Study in 1993 as one of three Important Large Forested Areas “which are of primary
importance and in need of immediate conservation strategies. the site was purchased to protect the
watershed of the Wanaque Reservoir and to form part of a continuous greenway through the Highlands linking
Harriman and Sterling Forest State Parks in New York with Long Pond Ironworks State Park and Norvin Green
State Forest in New Jersey; and this greenway is traversed by the recently created long-distance Highlands
Trail, designated New Jersey’s Millennium Trail, which travels some 150 miles from the Hudson River to the
Delaware River; as well as other historic foot trails maintained by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
and other private groups.
A local firm, X-treme Habitat, has made several proposals to lease the area and turn it into an OHV park that
would be open to pretty much every mechanized form of recreation. Xtreme Habitat volunteers continue work
on all facets of the proposed alternative recreation facility. In separate talks with the town and state, the non-
profit group continues to push for facilities for bicycles, skateboards, inline skates, ATVs and off road
motorcycles as well as unique outdoor facilities for persons with disabilities. Several locations for a bicycle
motocross track were identified and later deemed unusable. The group has volunteered to assist in the
building of facilities but no agreements have been finalized. Xtreme Habitat endeavors to work with the town,
county and state to provide recreational opportunities for individual sports.
so what’s the appeal to this place
I’ve been asking myself the same thing. If you believe there’s a RhinoGorilla running around in the woods up
there, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
You will see roads, paths, parking lots, and perhaps if you’re really intuitive be able to pinpoint the spot where
that peacock escaped from