LACEY — Canada's loss is New Jersey's gain in the form of four new lions and tigers at the Associated Humane Societies Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge.

They were residents of the Cherry Brook Zoo in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, which closed in May 2020 after 46 years. The zoo was having financial difficulties going into the pandemic but restrictions on visitors shut off their revenue stream which led to their decision to close.

New homes were eventually found for all 60 animals at Cherry Brook. Popcorn Park Zoo agreed to take in brother-and-sister lions, who are both 8-years-old, and the 7- and 8-year-old tigers. They were first taken to the Granby Zoo in Quebec before completing their two year journey to Ocean County.

Executive Director John Bergman said when he agreed to take them in he had no idea it would take so long.

"It was a pretty long time getting all the permits in line and arranging the transport," zoo  Bergman told New Jersey 101.5. "Special thanks to (former state) Sen. Raymond Lesniak for his perseverance in helping relocate these cats to New Jersey. This relocation would not have been possible without the tremendous support of Tigers in America and InSync Exotics."

New female, male tigers at the Popcorn Park Zoo
New female, male tigers at the Popcorn Park Zoo (John Bergman)
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Getting ready for new residents

Bergman said it is an honor to have the new residents to fill the void left by the death of Caesar in 2021. The new animals double the the refuge's "big cat" population. The zoo had to make some adjustments in order to provide a proper home.

"We had a cougar area and the doors were only 38 inches high. Tigers are taller so we had to do some reconstruction to make the doors big enough so they could go through easily, did some new fencing and things like that. We just got everything ready to go and we did it all in house," Berman said.

The four new residents are already at the zoo adjusting to their new surroundings.

"They're very nice and laid back and adjusting well so far," Bergman said.

New male and female lions at the Popcorn Park Zoo
New male and female lions at the Popcorn Park Zoo (John Bergman)
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First visitors

They are scheduled to meet the public for the first time at an event on Saturday, Sep. 10 celebrating Popcorn Park Zoo's 45th year.

The zoo will soon announce a naming contest on its Facebook and Instagram pages.

“These cats will be a welcome addition to the over 200 animals we provide refuge to. More importantly, they will provide an educational experience to the nearly 100,000 people who visit us annually. It is gratifying to know that Popcorn Park’s reputation for sanctuary to wildlife in need extends beyond our country’s borders.” Jerry Rosenthal, CEO of Associated Humane Societies said in a written statement.

The zoo's Big Cat Rescue Fund provides a way to help support the lions and tigers financially. A donation of $10 per month includes free admission to the zoo, a color photo of their animal and updates about them every four months.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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