NEW JERSEY — This week, over 200 abused, ill and exploited animals find solace in Fork River, New Jersey at Popcorn Park Zoo.
The zoo was established gradually after the staff of a local adoption center began receiving calls concerning wildlife in distress. As the compassionate persons began rehabilitating these animals, more cages were built and the facility expanded to its current, seven acre reserve of land.
According to Popcorn Park Zoo general manager John Bergmann, “Animals find their way to us. This all just happened by accident.”
Bergmann, along with the entire animal loving staff, dedicate no less than all of their time to the rehabilitation of these animals and they have made many friends among the lions, tigers, mountain lions, camels, emus, wallabies, monkeys, bears and other domestic animals.
“The chickens crawl all over the office, and they lay eggs on my desk,” laughed Bergmann, who also allows the birds to ride beside him in his golf cart while he greets each zoo resident by name, including Bengali the Bengal Tiger.
Bengali, one of Popcorn Park Zoo’s extreme cases, was rescued from a neglectful and abusive environment in Texas. “He was emaciated … you could see all his ribs and bones,” Bergmann shares, “The way he looked, it was like he didn’t have a will to live.”
The appropriate weight for a tiger of Bengali’s size is 400 pounds. He arrived weighing a mere 180 pounds. The zoo’s full time medical team, including Bergmann’s veterinarian son, surgically repaired his broken teeth and worked tediously to increase his body mass.
Now when Bergmann visits the feline, Bengali chuffs (a form of greeting) and rubs against the fence. “You are around [the animals] a lot. I guess there is some realization [by them] that you have done something for them.”
According to Popcorn Park Zoo staff, “What makes Popcorn Park so special is that each animal was rescued from suffering, exploitation and/or death – each has its own unique story to tell.”
Other Popcorn Park stories include Porthos the lion, who was found in a too small enclosure caked with excrement, and Sonny the elephant who was saved from euthanization. Sonny was imported from Zimbabwe to the United States in order to be trained for the circus and when he did not comply, he was given to the New Mexico Zoo where he escaped several times. The zoo sent a letter to facilities around the country to see if anyone could help, “We were the only one that raised our hand,” Bergmann recalled. “We take them when no one else wants them,” he said.
Sadly, Sonny passed away in 2001. For the Popcorn Park staff, losing a companion is the hardest part. “It is very sad that he is not with us any longer, but he is with his herd again,” said Bergmann.
Popcorn Park Zoo also has a large adoption center for animals from overcrowded shelters. The zoo and kennel run mostly on donations which counteract the cost of the staff and does not include the finances needed for supplies and food.
The amazing organization is part of the statewide Associated Humane Societies and sees 75,000 visitors a year who can feed air-popped popcorn to the animals. “I always hope, and I always think, [that visitors] walk out of here with more compassion for animals than they walked in here with,” said Bergmann.
The zoo is a wonderful non-profit that helps neglected animals who would otherwise be homeless. To donate or learn more about Popcorn Park, visit: http://www.ahscares.org/default.asp.