West Milford Jungle Habitat - The Story and The Rumors

We are here at Jungle Habitat in West Milford New Jersey. We're going to tell you a little bit about the story of Jungle Habitat and some of the truth and myths that you might have heard. This place opened in the summer of 1972 and closed four years later in October 1976. It was a zoo with a drive-through and walked through sections with animals roaming free in very large open areas. They had 1,500 animals here at this very location. Now it is a New Jersey State Park and people use it for mountain biking and hiking.

It's weird to see all these abandoned empty parking lots, huge paved empty lots.

Jungle Habitat was very successful at the beginning. It had about 500,000 people come the first year and over its four years in existence over six million people attended Jungle Habitat. But in its fourth year, its attendance was starting to taper off. They wanted to expand and offer more things to their customers and to attract new customers to come in.

Let's get to the reason that it closed. Warner Brothers, who owned the park, wanted to create all kinds of new attractions such as rides, a log flume, various cool things for the park. They planned a multi-million-dollar expansion to make it bigger and more awesome for its customers.

People in West Milford didn't necessarily want to see this expansion happen. The roads were full of traffic because they weren't made for such a huge park to be so close by. So, the people of West Milford put a lot of pressure on the town to try to stop this expansion from happening. When Warner Brothers heard that the residents of the town, and the township committee to approve this expansion, weren't in favor of it they pulled the expansion off the table.

Without expansion, they were not going to be able to stay in business. They had lost 3.5 million dollars over their four years of operations. They decided to walk away from their ten-million-dollar investment of Jungle Habitat rather than continue to lose money. Warner Brothers closed Jungle Habitat in October of 1976.

In 1988 the state of New Jersey bought the land that Jungle Habitat used to be on for one and a half million dollars. The land stretched 800 acres and there are over 26 miles of paved road not to mention all the paths and walkways through the forest.

Let's talk a little bit about truth, rumors, and myths. What are the rumors, and what has facts to back it up?

I heard that Jungle Habitat might have been the inspiration for Jurassic Park. Animals roaming free and people being able to drive through. It’s a very similar environment to Jurassic Park.

Some of the rumors are:

  1. Jungle Habitat didn’t treat the animals well.
  2. Some of the animals escaped into the surrounding town.
  3. Jungle Habitat left some of the dead animal carcasses out to rot.
  4. Some of the living animals were just left to wander the woods and Jungle Habitat packed up and left them behind.
  5. Animal spirits haunt the woods.
  6. There are still cages and parts of the zoo left behind.

Let's first talk about if Jungle Habitat treated the animals well or not.

Unfortunately, it is true that a lot of the animals struggled over the harsh New Jersey winters. The Siberian tigers did okay but the Lions and the baboons did not fare as well. The baboons, some people have reported, had frostbite and sometimes even lost their fingers. There are even reports that sometimes crocodiles would freeze in the ponds. In the winter of 1972, they started with 40 animals and ended with only 20.

Jungle Habitat did treat the animals well. It would be a very difficult task to take care of animals that weren't made for this climate and have them all last through the winters. I wouldn't really want to blame the caretakers of the animals that some of them got frostbite or died from it being too cold. I really believe that the animals were treated okay.

Some of the animals escaped into West Milford. There are some rumors about that. We did find evidence that some of the rumors are true. Some of the animals that did escape into the surrounding town are baboons, baby wolves, a flying peacock, and an ostrich.

After Jungle Habitat left they did not leave any living animals behind. They sold all the animals to various zoos across the world.

Unfortunately, it does seem to be true that Jungle Habitat did leave 30 dead animals on the land here after they left. They left them through the entire winter. It was about six months. They didn't get to clean them up until the spring.

One rumor that I don't believe to be true is that one night some drunk hunters came into Jungle Habitat and shot the animals right after they closed. There were still live animals around and they went and shot all the exotic animals and left them there, which I really don't believe that to be true. That is a myth.

There were two primary animal attacks during the life of Jungle Habitat. The first one was a man that came through in a taxi. He was in the back of the taxi and he rolled down the window a little bit and provoked a lion. The lion came over and stuck his paws on the window and pushed the window down the rest of the way and then he attacked the man.

Another animal attack involved a baby elephant. The baby elephant was in his cage and then he stuck his trunk out and grabbed a woman. I believe it was a grandmother and her grandson. He grabbed the grandmother and then bit the woman. That was another big animal attack at Jungle Habitat.

So far since I've been here I have not seen any evidence that this place is haunted. So probably when it comes to the haunted part, it's not true 😊

It is true that left over things are here from when this place was Jungle Habitat. You can come and hike through here and bike through here and you'll see all sorts of cool things in the woods. So, come and take a hike, take a bike ride, and find all the cool evidence left over from this place being a zoo.

So, thanks so much for watching our video about Jungle Habitat. We hope you learned something. Make sure that you come for a visit soon. It's been 40 years but there are remains of what once was a big attraction in West Milford.