In the news: 

HABITAT Articles

During its brief run, Jungle Habitat was not short on news articles. There were few local newspapers besides the Suburban Trends and the Argus. As a result,  the New York Times, The Record and The New York Post often picked up stories about the happenings in West Milford. We didn't have time to tackle the NY Post archives yet, but have it on the short list of to-dos.  Put on your reading glasses, grab a cup of Joe and let's get started. If you'd like to focus on a particular time frame for the history of the park, look on the timeline image on the top of this page to get your bearings. 



1972

Jungle Habitat Struggled to Survive: Suburban Trends: July 19th, 1972

Habitat Tackles Its Troubles: Special to the New York Times: August 13th, 1972   <---- a Gwen favorite

Lion Around in West Milford: Suburban Trends: September 17th, 1972

A Veldt of Animal Life in New Jersey: The Traveler's World: October 1st, 1972

Mauling by Lion at Habitat recalled: 5 Long Minutes of Horror: New York Times: October 11th, 1972

Eyewitness to Mauling rap Habitat Management: Suburban Trends: October 11th, 1972   

Wolves Escaped from West Milford's Jungle Habitat: Suburban Trends: November 22nd, 1972  (P.S. The wolves came back on their own, they were never caught)

Big Fun Boom! Farm Area Cultivating a Rich Crop of Tourists: New York Times: November 12th, 1972

Jungle Preserves: Great for Everyone except the Animals: Stand Speaker: Hazleton, PA: November 29th, 1972


FLASHBACK: Complaints over Jungle Habitat grow: Northjersey.com: September 15, 2016


1973

Jungle Habitat is Cleaning up Water: New York Times: April 8th, 1973

Jungle Habitat is now a Good Neighbor: New York Times: October 28th, 1973


1974

Two Siberian Tiger Cubs born at Jungle Habitat: Special to the New York Times: June 14th,1974

 

1975

Lion Bounce Remains open in West Milford: Suburban Trends: October 1975


1976

Jungle Habitat Expanding Lair: The Times Herald: Middletown, New York: August 6th, 1976

Jungle Habitat plans to close Zoo in New Jersey: New York Times: November 1st, 1976

Verdict on Habitat: New York Times: November 1st, 1976

Closing of Jungle Habitat was a surprise even at Warner Brothers: New York Times: November 10th, 1976

Jungle Habitat mourned in West Milford: Suburban Trends: November 7th, 1976  <---- a Gwen favorite


1977

West Milford's Jungle Habitat put up for Sale: Suburban Trends: January 19th, 1977

Decaying Animal Carcasses Found Unburied at Jungle Habitat Site: Special to the New York Times: April 6th, 1977


1978

What Ever Happened to Jungle Habitat?: The New York Times: May 11, 1978


1981

Elephant Bite Suit Settled: New York Times: February 3rd, 1981

Elephant Bite Victim given $200,000 in damages: The Reading Eagle, February 3rd, 1981


1981

What Killed West Milford's Jungle Habitat? The Suburban Trends: December 4th, 1985


1989

Kangaroo Sighting in Oakland: Suburban Trends: March 8th, 1989     <----- hilarious



2004

Kids Tackle Suburban Jungle: Special to the Herald News: July 18th,2004


2006

Many Still Wrangling over Jungle Habitat Site: Suburban Trends: February 2, 2006

Taking Back the Jungle:Where lions once roared West Milford plans Eco-Park: The Record: March 21st, 2006

Cub Crazy: How one Family Turned its Home into a Zoo: The Record: August 21, 2006     


2013

Township seeks to lease state properties: Suburban Trends: July 31, 2013

On a budgetary shoestring, PAL silences Thunder in the Highlands: Suburban Trends: June 23, 2013


2014

Fair Lawn zoo tried to relocate to West Milford: Suburban Trends: March 9, 2014

Website to shed light on West Milford's Jungle Habitat: Suburban Trends: May 21, 2014

The Lion Sleeps Tonight: The Magazine: August 28, 2014

It's a jungle out there: Suburban News, September 11, 2014


2015

West Milford Council Arranges Feasibility Studies for ATV Park: NorthJersey.com: April 30, 2015

West Milford ATV Park Mission On Course, Off Track: NorthJersey.com: May 4, 2015

West Milford Residents voice ATV Park Concerns to Town Council: NorthJersey.com: May 14, 2015

Pump BMX Bike Track evolved from 2001 BMX Proposal in West Milford: NorthJersey.com: June 4, 2015

Remember Jungle Habitat? New plans eyed for Wild Site: nj.com June 30, 2015


2016

Jungle Habitat operated from 1972 to 1976: Northjersey.com  September 8, 2016

Jungle overgrown but not forgotten: NorthJersey.com October 16, 2016

State pitches Pay to Play for Jungle Habitat site: Northjersey.com October 16, 2016

Opinion: NJ Bike with Trail Bar: Northjersey.com  October 18th, 2016

West Milford wants voice in Mountain Bike park plans: Northjersey.com  October 20, 2016


2017

Bike trails built where wild animals once roamed jungle of West Milford: New Jersey Herald  January 24, 2017



A lot can happen in four years, especially when you have 1,500 animals running around in the yard. The purpose of this page is to dig deep into the history of the park and to share rarely seen nuggets of Habitat history. All of the content here will be based on history, none of that "Jungle Habitat is haunted" nonsense. The information posted here is a compilation of data from archive media, employee interviews, Open Public Record Act requests and historical research. Traffic jams, baboon escapes and frequent displays of animal affection aside; let's take a look  at the Habitat's rise and fall.  

Jungle habitat 1972-1976

Everything you wanted to know

(And just a pinch more)




Park Closure: the trespassing years: 1977-1989

After the park announced that it was closing, the work to clear the property of animals and any valuable assets was underway. On January 19th, 1977, Mahlon Apgar from the Alexander Summer Company appeared at a town meeting to advise the township of the property's sale. The site was listed for $3.4 million dollars (equivalent to 11 million dollars today) and Mr. Apgar was requesting cooperation from the township committee to find a buyer and to assist with the sale of the property. As the newspapers covered the story in the months and years to follow, no private buyers purchased the land. Warner Brothers paid the taxes on the property from 1972 until the site was purchased by the State of New Jersey in 1988 for $1.45 million dollars. The site is now open as a state park, and has a number of active number of  biking trails. The trails are maintained by the hard-working trail monkeys at  JORBA. If you like to ride and like Jungle Habitat, visit their site and check out their intricate network of trails. Without their cleanup work, the park would look very different today. 

Let's talk a bit about the renegade period of Jungle Habitat. Before the state purchased it, while the fences were still up and under heavy lock and key. When the park closed, the site was not open to the public and was heavily patrolled. Not by the local police, but private security managed by Warner Brothers. It was after the park's closure that the habitat took on a  separate persona to bored teens in the area, myself included.  The animals and large assets were moved out of the park, but a great deal was left behind. Items that were not deemed of value or available for re-sale were left on the grounds. The power was left on, but the fences were no longer electrified. The need to keep the animals in no longer existed, but there seemed to be a great need to keep trespassers out. I wondered for decades who was patrolling the park (and if you ever went into the habitat you know someone was) and asked the West Milford police department. The former police chief confirmed that the police department never had jurisdiction over the property. I don't know who they were, but this group was organized and never out in the open. Evidence of their existence was apparent. As a teenager I always wondered why all of the cloak and dagger fun, just turn the Electric Fence back on - problem solved. 

During  a particularly boring summer night in  1987, me and a few friends cut the chains and locks to the main entrance with commercial grade bolt-cutters.  We drove into the park well after midnight with the car's headlights off for fear of being detected. Past investigations through the front gate always resulted in a visit from a dude with a BB gun full of rock salt. I still bear the scar where one of those shots landed. (And yet, it wasn't enough to deter us from revisiting) Since we couldn't see (and it was quite likely there was alcohol involved) we got spooked and decided to come back when the sun came up. When we returned at daybreak, the chains and locks were replaced along with some additional physical barriers.  What was in there that we couldn't see? Of course I realize now the security people were just doing their jobs and securing the property, but at the time, it was personal. Not one to turn away from a challenge, getting in became my mission. My most successful trips into the habitat were via the old entrance before the road was flooded and re-directed. The roadway which remained barricaded with 6-7 large boulders for two decades was the easiest way to get in undetected. You had an advantage if you had a bike as you could outrun those on foot.  I was also shot at with a BB gun from this entrance, but trying to hit a moving target was too large a task for a jungle based mall cop. 

People were often seen in the woods, usually other curious thrill-seekers or treasure hunter types with the portable metal-detectors. There was a local squatter living in the park who I avoided a few times. Seeing him appear out of the woods was very Jason-esque. (from Friday the 13th) I knew enough to steer clear. There were newspapers in the cages with recent dates, it was evident that I was not the only one interested in scouring the inside of the fences. There were stacks of papers lying around in different huts, ride ticket reels, straws and junk that was deemed unimportant to discard. You couldn't really linger in the open areas without fear of detection. If you went into the park, you had to keep moving quietly. Other than the sounds of birds, the park was always completely silent. If you didn't know where you were going, you could easily get lost as many of the paved trails look the same. I would imagine that many a West Milford teen was lost in the Habitat at some point during their adolescence. There is evidence of partying in the woods to this day, cheap plastic bottles of vodka and campfires atop the Baboon Hill area. Visiting during the fall is particularly challenging as the fallen leaves cover the trails and forest floor. When i had the opportunity to get some cool stuff out of the park, i lacked the tools and means. Now the opportunity is long gone. Yes, I just kicked myself for you. 

That's All Folks


You can walk into the park now, no locks, no chains, no rock salt. If you're thinking about it, bring a bike as there is a LOT of ground to cover. 

Thirty-eight years after its close, Jungle Habitat remains a bit of a cement and macadam wasteland untouched by the promise of commercial rateables or any legitimate tax revenue. It's a great place to bike, hike and walk, but it's hard not to wonder how the face of West Milford would have changed forever had Warner Brothers stayed. Had the town embraced the menagerie and all of its quirks, the township would have regular tourism. Frustrating as traffic may be, tourism always helps the local businesses. Was keeping the immediate neighbors of the habitat happy more important than the overall growth and financial future of the town?   Obviously the question is rhetorical, we can't turn back the clocks or head down the "what if" path. Had the town supported the expansion, Warner Communications would have continued forward. They were a multi-million dollar corporation willing to do what was needed to move forward.  The lack of support from the town in addition to the lackluster financial view without any new attractions triggered the exit from West Milford. When Jungle Habitat didn't work out, Warner moved on and invested their money into building the Cosmos soccer club. Warner obviously had the money and the drive to keep Jungle Habitat alive, what they lacked was the promise of smooth sailing from the township and some residents. The situation reads like an Emily Dickinson poem straight of  literature class; an unrequited relationship that ends with one person departing for good. Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away.   


Speaking personally, I'd prefer to hear lions roar instead of the adding machine keystrokes calculating my tax bill.  Kudos Mrs. Daugherty! (<---the correct spelling of her name)



Legal Woes

The thought of having wild animals wandering about in a semi-controlled setting would give nightmares to the most seasoned insurance underwriter. Imagine the liability associated with having a mixed bag of carnivores (many of which had prey/predator relationships) walking about on the same grounds. Even though the extra-dangerous carnivores had their own compounds with electric fences, their mere existence around humans posed a constant threat. Anyone who has watched the 70's horror movie "The Omen" remembers what the baboons tried to do to innocent little Damien. The park had an experienced staff of wardens who were well trained and ready to intervene at any time. If you listen to the audio of the Safari ride cassette posted on our home page, you'll hear that wardens were all throughout the park waiting to rescue a patron in peril.   As the animals adjusted the park, they learned where to go, where not to go and in some cases, how to get out. Some animals were notorious escape and property damage experts. There was a tiger who was fond of biting car tires and exploding them, monkeys that ripped off car antennas to the amusement of their extended group, llamas that spat at visitors, baboons who liked to peel off vinyl roof coverings,  kicking ostriches and charging rhinos. If your car was damaged by an animal at the park, the owner received a wall certificate from the administrators along with payment for any repairs. If you're reading this and you have one of these certificates, P L E A S E send us a copy! 


Sometimes the damage wasn't aimed at physical property. There were 3 lawsuits made public during the park's operation, two of which were covered via the Associated Press. While I'm sure there were a few hush-hush employee lawsuits, I'd like to think that those who worked  closely with the animals had a deep admiration and respect for them. If you got hurt, it was likely because you weren't paying attention. Though Warner Brothers had their moments of bad P.R., the Habitat took care of their workers and took the necessary steps to ensure their safety. Employees can be trained and educated, it was the park visitors who posed the largest risk. You were supposed to obey the signs. You were supposed to know that lions have razor sharp claws that will slice your skin open in 2 seconds. Common sense dictates that you listen to the authority of the park while driving through some rather dangerous terrain. You may not have known that your '72 pinto would explode if someone rear-ended you, but even the most naive city dweller should know not to taunt a pride of lions. Right? Wrong. 


LAWSUIT #1: LION MAULING: You can read about the details of the assault in the articles below, but a $3 million dollar lawsuit was filed shortly after the mauling incident. As the investigation progressed, the attacked person admitted to opening his car window and calling out to the lions. He summoned them by yelling,"here kitty" and "here you mangy beasts". If you're going to tease a pride of lions ( each one weighs about 550lbs) with your window open, you get what's coming. The lion put his paws on the glass, forced it down and jumped into the car. Bugs Bunny's friend Pete Puma might be fun to ride with, but not a real lion. After admitting to taunting the animals, the lawsuit was dropped. This early incident was the inspiration for the sign "People are food in Lion Country - keep doors closed and locked and windows rolled up!"  The negative publicity focused on the attack, not the foolish decisions of the patron that prompted it.  The attack occurred within three months of the park's opening. 


LAWSUIT #2: BABY ELEPHANT ATTACK: The articles about this attack are posted with the articles below from 1981. A grandmother was picked up and thrashed about by a baby elephant. Granted it was a 750 pound baby, but enough to cause harm to a woman out for a day with her grandson. The animal reached over a 4 foot fence and lifted the victim by the arm. No one wanted to see grandma get hurt; she sued and was awarded $200,000 for her injuries in 1981. The case took 7 years to get through the court system. Grandma ended up with a nice sum of money and an interesting topic of discussion at the canasta table. 


LAWSUIT #3: THE RHINO WHO MADE A GIRLFRIEND OUT OF A GRAY MERCEDES-BENZ: This case was never picked up by the media, but is the most amusing of the 3. A family with two young children (ages 10 & 12) ventured to the Habitat for some family fun in their brand new matte grey Mercedes. A male rhino with an obvious need for corrective lenses assumed the gray car was a new female in the herd. He charged the car from behind, jumped on the rear and mounted the fine piece of German engineering. The event didn't last for long and no one was hurt. The lawsuit was for damages sustained to the car and for exposing the children to such virile behavior. This one was settled out of court since the car had a great deal of cosmetic damage. 


War​ner brothers Jungle habitat

Take a good look! 



Honorable Mention: THOSE AMAZING ANIMALS



the Animals 

Is this what brought you to the page? Are you one of the folks upset at the rumors that animals were abandoned in a harsh New Jersey winter to fend for themselves when the park closed? Put down the tissues because it just didn't happen that way. Here's what the safari guidebook had to say about the mission with regard to the animals, "Survival is no longer the answer. More than mere existence, the Earth's wildlife must look forward to preservation and propagation: in their native habitats in animal preservation centers. Towards this ultimate goal, Warner Brothers Jungle Habitat is dedicated."  - R. Brian Hunt.  That fluffy mission statement translates to  Warner Brothers taking a stand towards protecting and increasing animal populations. Not out in the rain forest or savanna, but in West Milford. They had a functional hospital, nursery and full veterinary staff on site.  When when you work with animals, birth and death are part of the daily operation.


 New Jersey has an  unpleasant winter  from December through March. Winters in the 1970's were extremely cold, I remember being bundled up like a well-insulated Randy from "A Christmas Story" and still not being warm. If you were lucky enough to be a rhino, elephant, ostrich, bird or monkey you had a nice heated barn to wait the winter out. The rhinos were the park's most valuable animal assets with the elephants a close second. The barns  had a lot of excrement inside, but were heated and provided shelter. During the winter of 1976, there were 20 rhinos in the rhino barn.  The marine animals (the porpoise and seals)  were flown to Florida by private jet as a small unheated pool  is no match for a New Jersey winter. The giraffes and alligators were shipped to Ohio in an animal holding facility. All of the other animals were outside for the winter which was difficult for even the furriest.  The only animals suited for such cold were the Siberian tigers. The hoofed animals were in better shape as they had some insulation from the cold, but the lions and Baboons likely struggled the most for the 4 winters they had to endure. The baboons took the worst of it with frequent cases of frostbite on their fingers, toes and tails. A former employee shared a few sad stories of the baboon fingers & tails freezing and just falling off.  The lions had a trailer to jump into, but they couldn't live in it full time. The giant land tortoises couldn't survive the fall of 1972. The population started with 40 animals in July, dwindled to 20 by Mid-October and 8 by late November. It's unclear if the animals died or were moved to the Ohio animal holding facility. At the urging of a member of the NY Herpetological Society, the tortoises were moved into a barn with heat lamps and hay to keep help keep them warm. 


This cycle repeated year after year - open from April/May through October and then the animals prepared for winter. When the lights were shut down to the public for the last time over Halloween weekend in 1976, the logistics of moving and transporting the animals became a reality. The work began in December of 1976 and continued through March of 1977. By April of 1977, 400 animals remained in the park. 1075 of the animals were sold to International Animal Exchange under the care of Brian Hunt. Some of the deer were sold to shooting preservations in the Southern United States.  During the winter, approximately 30 animals died from a variety of causes. Two male camels who had a reputation for being perpetually unruly got into a fight in their pen and one did not survive. 6 deer, 2 buffalo, 1 steer and 19 llamas were euthanized due to tuberculosis. An elephant also died of natural causes.  Since it was winter, the ground was frozen and the animals were not buried immediately. Their carcasses were in a state of advanced decomposition by March. The board of health investigated, and although Warner Brothers was in violation of a health-code law, no sanctions were filed.  There is a large cement square on the way into the park via Airport road adjacent to the cliffs beside the airport. The animal carcasses were buried and entombed in cement for eternity.  Others are buried in pits in the back of the park near gate #13. Their bones sometimes come to the surface in the spring months as the graves are sagging inward. 


The drama and rumor mill about the animals began in March of 1977. While the remaining animals were being prepared for transport, the veterinary staff had to dart the animals with tranquilizers. M99, a heavily controlled substance that is between 1,000-3,000 times more potent than morphine was used to sedate the large mammals for safe transport. Local residents heard repeat gunshots coming from the direction of the park and called the media. Within hours, reporters from the New York Times were on-site taking pictures and names. Hikers also found the decaying corpse of a baby elephant in the woods.  This was when winter's carnage was discovered and the pictures of the decapitated elephant emerged.  An investigation ensued. There was no internet, just good ol' Passaic county chit-chat between the Gladys Kravitz types. Through word of mouth and assumptions, an urban legend was born. Warner Brothers killed the animals....Warner Brothers released the animals into the woods....Warner Brothers left the animals in their cages and closed shop. Nonsense!  Jungle Habitat was a business, one that didn't fare well on the balance sheet in the end. The animals and park property were the only assets left to recoup some of the financial impact of the park's closure. The sale of the animals paled in comparison to the overall investment in the park. More marine animals were purchased over the summer of 1976 that never made public display at Jungle Habitat. A "killer whale" (Orca) was purchased for $80,000, a sea lion for $10,000 and another porpoise for $24,000. The animals made it to the park, but never to the public's eye. I don't even want to estimate the transport costs for an Orca from San Diego, California to West Milford, New Jersey. "Can I have some insurance and delivery tracking on that whale?" 


Some animals escaped into West Milford, the baboons, baby wolves, a flying peacock and an ostrich. A Ridge road resident told me of an un-reported escape of an Alaskan Timberwolf that was perched on his car one morning. The park had electric fences, some of which had barbed wire on top. There were 7 observation towers for employees to watch the animals, and 2 rangers in each predator compound. Rangers had shotguns with blanks for ammunition, only the senior rangers had live ammunition. Employees had to be 17 years old to work directly with the animals.  None of the big guys ever got out, and let's be honest, West Milford has more black bears than any town in the state of New Jersey!  West Milford is known as the "Bear Capital of New Jersey". Please tell me you get the irony?  


Harold the Chimpanzee had the longest public career -  after Jungle Habitat closed,he became the mascot of the Cosmos soccer team. Steve Ross, the CEO of Warner Communications, was a soccer fan and created the COSMOS team shortly after Jungle Habitat closed. Bugs, Porky, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety, Sylvester and Yosemite Sam joined Harold at the Cosmos games to work up the crowd. We know at least one of the former habitat employees who donned the Bugs suit continued the job for the Cosmos. Harold got all of the cool gigs like going on Wonderama, posing with Broadway singers in local bars for AP photos and various meet and greets. Sugar, a Siberian tiger, got to swim around in the Playboy Club resort pool for a publicity photo. The animals who were seen out and about were taken out, deliberately, under the supervision of their handlers. 


So please, the next time someone tells you, "I heard the animals were left there!" - set them straight. Some suffered during the cold months in conditions that were less than ideal for their species. Crocodiles were frozen in ponds and many were lost along the way, but none were left behind. 

We here at westmilfordjunglehabitat.com are all big animal lovers - this was the hardest piece of the history to get through. If you have an animal story you'd like to tell, please contact us. 



Location, Location, Location

I'm just going to get into it. Why West Milford?  Why does a large movie corporation build a safari park in rural Northern New Jersey?  When Jungle Habitat opened, easy ways to get to West Milford did not exist. A proposal was made in the early 1960's by the NJ Department of Transportation to construct a 4 lane highway to bypass Ringwood's Skyline Drive, go through Oakland, Wanaque, Ringwood, West Milford and eventually Vernon. The recommendation was made to build and extend Rt. 208 Northbound as a freeway extension through Passaic & Sussex Counties. The plan had exits at Greenwood Lake Turnpike in Ringwood, Margaret King Avenue in Ringwood, Marshall Hill Road in West Milford, Unon Valley Road in West Milford, Lake Shore Drive in West Milford and the Waywayanda State Park entrance in Vernon. Are you making the connection? What two large resorts were built in New Jersey in the 1970's along this corridor? Jungle Habitat and the Playboy Club in Vernon. The Marshall Hill Road exit would take you to the Habitat's gate.  Real estate prospectors and investors used these plans to scout for future resort and business locations. The proposal would have included a 21.4 mile interstate freeway with a 60mph speed limit. Its maximum grade would be 5% and could have handled 30,000 vehicles per day. The immediate priorities of the project were the connections between Fairlawn & Franklin Lakes, and then Franklin Lakes to Ringwood. The Ringwood to Vernon segment had a completion date of 1985. Construction & right-of-way costs came to  $66.3 million to complete the project. The high costs of the proposal coupled with the environmental impact of the Wanaque Reservoir watershed eventually retired the effort. The pathway for the extension also cut through several areas with designated state and county parks. You can read more about the 208 effort here if you're in the mood for a traffic study. I bet the traffic situation would have been a lot better if the option was in place for this highway, but not much else. 


Rt 23 was probably the easiest for most via Echo Lake Road and many of the park flyers provided directions to cut through Ringwood via Skyline Drive in to county road 511.  Rt 511 is a flat winding road with no signs of civilization for at least 8 miles. The road runs around the Wanaque/Monksville Reservoir and was a favorite spot for speeding Ringwood teens. It's scenic and is known as the  Passaic County Authobahn.  While the speed limit was fast enough, the moment you rolled into West Milford, the roads became more narrow and twisty. The speed limit also dropped. Pound for pound, you probably had a faster ride into the park via Ringwood vs. coming up Rt. 23. Unless you're from West Milford and the surrounding area, navigating the rural setting wasn't easy.  When the park first opened, the entrance was on Marshall Hill Road. That area has since been re-directed and flooded but is semi-visible from the back corner of the park. A new entrance was made via Airport Road in the winter of 1972 (across from the A&W)  helped with the traffic flow and the overheating cars. Prior to the Airport Road entrance, all cars went through the safari going uphill. After waiting in an endless queue of traffic to GET to the Habitat, you had to drive at a very slow rate of speed up a steep incline.  The new entrance benefited everyone except for the owners of the towing company. 

 

My guess is that West Milford was chosen for two reasons: its proximity to Manhattan and the amount of available land. During the 70's, the corporate headquarters for Warner Communications was at 75 Rockelfeller Plaza in Manhattan. Executives who worked out of the Manhattan facility frequented West Milford - the trip could be made in 45 minutes to an hour if traffic was light. West Milford had the kind of space required to house a sprawling zoo. I think Ed Gola, former West Milford councilman & freeholder had it right. "The Habitat is a real good rateable;  it's money on the books and you don't have to worry about costs." "A zoo doesn't mean a lot of kids that will be going to school."   


I the mid 1980's, the Jungle Habitat site was re-zoned for development by the township of West Milford. Warner Brothers had been paying the property taxes on an abandoned property for almost 12 years. There was no commercial interest in the site and the area was re-zoned for development of a townhouse complex and golf course. Based on the size of the property, there would have been 5 units per acre of land with the basic look and feel of West Milford's Bald Eagle Village. Developers were scheming to build out the area until the stock market crashed in 1987. The real estate market took a dive and the property ended up in the hands of the Prospect Park Bank. Local residents were not overly excited at the prospect of the townhouse complex and its impact on the land and potential strain on local services. Senator Frank Lautenberg pressured local environmental groups to purchase the Jungle Habitat site and the Lake Sonoma property through the New Jersey Green Acres program. The Jungle Habitat site was purchased by the State of New Jersey for $800,000 and Lake Sonoma property was obtained for $600,000. Both properties combined equated to $1.4 million dollars. The streams throughout the property have been upgraded to Category 1 so any development in that area is now quite unlikely. There has been some chatter in recent years to use the Habitat's parking area as a contractor parking and storage area for a pipeline project. You can read about the Dept of Environmental Protection Agency's report here, check page 8. 




Jungle Junction    

If you were young when you visited Jungle Habitat, this was the place where the action was. There were rides, animals aplenty and a few spots to buy  a souvenir. Here's a scan of the map - notice Bugs and friends are all the way in the back of the park. You could decide if you wanted to drive a Safari Jeep, a camel, an elephant (or all three). This map is helpful to decipher what you're looking at if you venture into this part of the park today. The ticket booth on the way in (just through the tubes) is one of the easiest landmarks to identify. It's falling apart and full of empty Keystone Light cans. One of the metal  Jungle Junction signs was listed for sale on Ebay during the summer of 2012. It was found under a heap of dirt and had substantial dents/dings, there's a photo of it in the "NOW" photo gallery.  


About those Plans

Locals in West Milford know all about the park's expansion plans that were requested in the later part of 1975. Unless you lived nearby, it's quite likely that you weren't aware that Warner Brothers was planning a large capital investment in the park. Being closed during the winter months amassed a large operating expense to Warner Brothers; heated barns for the elephants, rhinoceroses, birds, ostriches and monkeys and enough food to literally "feed a zoo". The daily ration for a lion was 20 pounds of raw horse meat. At the population peak, there were 70 lions at Jungle Habitat! Do the math on that extrapolated across the 1,500 animals and you have quite a food bill. The park needed to make money during the limited open season. Initially the park opened for the season in May, but as the years passed, it switched to April. The core operating season was April through September, and weekends through October. The park had weekend rain insurance; if it rained over one inch and patrons did not come, the insurance company would pay Warner Brothers for the day. In the summer of 1975, Jungle Habitat received rain-pay insurance for seven Sundays! During budgetary cycles in May of 1975, Warner executives wrote off 4 million dollars in the carrying value of the park assets.  


A zoo is dependent on visitors, and there were plenty flocking to West Milford. During its 4 year of operations, over 6 million people visited the park. Attendance was down in in 1976 and Warner Brothers attempted to bring some new entertainment options to the park by requesting an expansion variance. Warner Brothers wanted to build an amusement park on the South side of the property. The new area would feature a Ferris wheel, log flume ride and water features. The park closed at dusk, the newly proposed rides would be open during regular daytime operating hours.  Residents within 500 feet of the proposed site protested and applied pressure to township officials. Township officials required approvals at the ride level rather than as one single plan. The zoning application was eventually withdrawn by Warner Brothers as they felt the residents and township committee were not supportive of the project. Add a 3.5 million dollar operating loss (since July of 1972) to that lack of support and a swift exit seemed very appealing. Warner chose to walk away from their 10 million dollar investment. The decision to close was so abrupt that the 1976 fall quarterly  in-house magazine "Warner World" went to press with a large article about the multi-million dollar expansion of Jungle Habitat. The intent was to make the park the largest family amusement area in the East. When the park announced its closure during the late fall of 1976, the capitalized value of the park was $2.5 million dollars.  We have been on the lookout for the fall 1976 issue of "Warner World" through various personal & historical channels; it is the last living record of what Jungle Habitat could have been. The photo below was obtained from an executive of the park who started out as the primary architect for the grounds. The new rides were shipped to the United States from Germany and were in the port in NJ awaiting transport paperwork. All of the rides ended up going back to Germany. 


Check out this link to read the April 27, 1976 West Milford Zoning Ordinance & Planning Review board session where the application was discussed. 


It's apparent that many residents feared the departure of Jungle Habitat based on the outcome of this discussion. They were right. 



Park Blueprints

Very old, very large!  Since we lacked a scanner large enough to pick up the entire image, the photos are broken down into visible sections for your viewing pleasure. Keep reading to see the rendering of what the "new" Jungle Habitat would have looked like IF  the expansion plans were not withdrawn by Warner Brothers.