It was in October of 1972 that one of the more notorious incidents at New Jersey’s Jungle Habitat took place.

Jungle Habitat was a drive-thru animal park in West Milford that was open from 1972-76 and was owned by Warner Brothers; one of their ads boasted that you could “have eyeball to eyeball confrontations with lions and tigers, bears and rhinos, bears and caribou and altogether 1,500 animals and birds.”

An Israeli tourist, Abraham Levy, was being driven through the park in a taxi with his window partially rolled down to get a better look at the animals, not a smart move. There were signs all over the park (and in the literature handed to park guests) warning patrons NOT to roll down their windows and to stay in their cars. According to a park spokesman said that Levy was “hanging out the window, beckoning the lion." At least one report says that Levy was also trying to lure the lion closer with food when the beast approached the car and stuck its paw inside the open window. The lion then got its head through the window and clawed and bit Levy who sustained injuries to his neck, face, shoulder, and arm.

Park rangers responded quickly and got the lion to release its grip on Levy’s arm. Levy was taken to Chilton Hospital in Pompton Plains. It was subsequently determined that the park was not at fault and Levy took responsibility for the incident. Alas, it was not to be the last negative publicity for the park: in 1974, a baby elephant attacked a woman and threw her to the ground; a court awarded her $200,000 in damages. There was another lawsuit by a family whose Mercedes was mounted by an amorous rhino who tried to mate with it.

There were also frequent rumors of escaped animals spotted by West Milford residents.

The park closed in 1976 after it was denied permission to expand. There was a mound of carcasses left behind, however, including an elephant, a camel, zebras, and bison.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.

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