The seven-month saga that started when Tropical Storm Ida flooded a small Piscataway zoo final September seems to be coming to a close.
The zoo — an “animal haven” situated within the sprawling 478-acre Johnson Park that’s free for guests — will close after 73 years, the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners introduced Thursday throughout its month-to-month assembly.
Dozens of animals which have referred to as the zoo house for many years are within the course of of being relocated to sanctuaries, however about 12 of the animals will be relocated to a brand new instructional facility inside the park’s borders, officers stated. The park zoo holds deer, turkeys, rabbits, birds, goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and horses.
“We have mixed emotions. We’re definitely really happy and grateful for the animals who are going to sanctuaries … however, there are animals who are not going to the sanctuaries that we do have some concerns about still,” stated Sonya Elefante, a volunteer for Friends of the Johnson Park Animals, a brand new group fashioned final fall that has fought to close the zoo.
The county made the same closure announcement final October, citing the park zoo’s location inside a flood zone and the “undeniable threat of climate change.” However, over a month later officers stated they’d preserve the zoo open whereas consultants assessed the chance of transferring the animals elsewhere inside park grounds or shuttering it solely.
The affect of Ida on the zoo spurred animal advocates to type Friends of the Johnson Park Animals, saying the animals didn’t obtain sufficient care and have been in danger just by residing on the park. After the storm, organizers posted images on-line of the mini-horse chest deep in brown water, in addition to different animals coping with flooding.
No animals died or went lacking at Johnson Park zoo because of this of Ida, a county spokeswoman beforehand stated. However, officers confirmed that about 17 miles away a pig died amid the storm at Merrill Park in Woodbridge, one other Middlesex County park that additionally homes animals.
Twenty-two years in the past, ten horses on the Johnson Park zoo died because of this of flooding throughout Hurricane Floyd.
Calls to close the zoo, which is susceptible to flooding, have been shared for years by locals and have been renewed following Ida. Still, some residents stated they wished to preserve the park zoo open, Commissioner Director Ronald Rios stated Thursday.
The hot-button challenge was the main focus of a number of commissioner conferences and led to at the very least three petitions and a number of protests.
Of the more than 90 animals that reside on the zoo, at the very least 11 have been moved to sanctuaries between the tip of 2021 and final week. Earlier this month, 4 alpacas have been transferred to Live Free Farm in (*70*) Township. In addition, 22 animals have been moved to Thompson Park and 15 moved to Merrill Park in February, a county official stated.
Last 12 months, different sanctuaries stepped up to shelter animals — made doable by efforts led by organizer Jenna Trent. Goats of Anarchy took over possession of a goat, RJ Stokley took on a mom goat and her two children and Uncle Neil’s Home welcomed in two pigs and a ram.
Starting this week, officers will start the method of relocating a couple of of the animals to a brand new close by facility inside Johnson Park and the remaining to animal sanctuaries, Middlesex County officers stated.
“We’re going to have Zoo Advisors investigate different sanctuaries to see which ones are suitable and willing to take (the animals),” Rios stated Thursday.
Rios, who famous the county deliberate to begin working “ASAP” to discover new houses for the animals, stated he anticipated the work to be accomplished inside the subsequent few weeks.
The new facility will be half of a brand new Historic Animal Husbandry Program at East Jersey Old Town Village, county officers stated in an announcement.
“East Jersey Old Town Village is a collection of historic structures from the 1700s and 1800s that through innovative exhibits, public programs and living history tells the story of Middlesex County,” the county stated in an announcement.
“The location at the village, out of the flood zone, has been identified for some of the animals,” the county added.
Two horses, three goats, six chickens and a cow will be moved to the power, Elefante stated.
The choice, the county stated, was the outcome of an evaluation carried out by Havertown, Pennsylvania, planning and consulting agency Zoo Advisors and Wall-based engineering guide French & Parrello Associates. Both assessed park zoo operations and reviewed different county amenities, info which can even be folded into the county’s 2040 grasp plan.
Rios described the husbandry program as an “educational program.” Following considerations about animal care at Johnson Park zoo, he additionally famous that staff on the new facility — the identical from the soon-to-close zoo — would obtain further coaching.
While some have expressed considerations concerning the potential for animals to be bred on the new location, Rios stated breeding wouldn’t happen. Additionally, they are going to develop a plan for short-term relocation or different steps to preserve the animals secure throughout inclement climate. He stated fencing would additionally forestall individuals from feeding the animals, one other concern of zoo critics.
“Another issue we have is the general care that the animals receive. In the past there have been situations where the animals were not given proper vet care in a timely fashion,” Elefante stated.
Rick Lear, director of Middlesex County workplace of parks and recreation, stated throughout a previous commissioner’s assembly that the park zoo is in compliance, topic to federal inspections and employs veterinarians to look after the animals.
During an inspection on Jan. 27 of Johnson Park following resident complaints, an assistant biologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife stated she was involved with greens meant for the fallow deer that have been discovered on the bottom. An inspection of the doe enclosure at Thompson Park, one other county park that homes animals, additionally discovered a gap partially of the fence.
An assistant biologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife lauded the situations and animal care offered at each parks.
“All of the captive game and exotic and non-game animals at Johnson Park and Thompson Park appeared to be in good health. The enclosures allow the animals to perform their normal behavior pattern and prevent disease, liberation, or accidental injury to the animals and the public,” the state biologist wrote in a Feb. 2 letter to the county, obtained by NJ Advance Media through an Open Public Records Act request. “The animals are fed an adequate diet and are kept in clean enclosures.”
One resident requested commissioners Thursday what would possibly Johnson Park zoo turn out to be as soon as the animals have been eliminated. Rios stated it might serve a number of functions however didn’t remark additional.
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Steven Rodas might be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @stevenrodasnj.