An animal haven in New Jersey is shutting down after severe flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida raised concerns from animal welfare advocates.
The Johnson Park Animal Haven in Middlesex County flooded last month after the region was hit by Ida’s heavy rains.
The park sits on a high-risk flood zone along the Raritan River and pictures of animals trapped in the rising waters saturated social media.
“I saw alpacas, goats, fallow deer just standing ankle deep in water,” said Highland Park resident Taylor Myers. “And then some of the worst photos, they are standing up to their necks in water.”
Park officials say due to the threat of climate change, it is in the best interest of the animals to close.
“Every time we get even a heavy rain, the water just overflows into it and there is no evacuation plan here,” said Somerset resident Janet Ratliff.
The animals are being relocated to zoos, animal sanctuaries, and possibly rescue farms.
“For generations, Middlesex County families have visited the animals at the Johnson Park Animal Haven,” the Board of County Commissioners said in a statement. “The park has not only brought joy to those families on their visits but provided a much-needed home for animals that would otherwise be euthanized or be unable to survive in the wild.”
Not everyone is happy about the closure. The small petting zoo has been a part of Debra Novak’s life since the very beginning.
“It’s one of the few places where you can see the animals, you can feed them and not have to pay and not have to go to the nearest zoo,” Novak said.
Middlesex County officials, including those within the Office of Parks and Recreation, worked closely with resident groups advocating on behalf of the animals, including the Friends of the Johnson Park Animals, as well as local animal sanctuaries and zoos to determine the correct course of action.
“We recognize and appreciate the support that has been given to the haven throughout the years,” the statement went on to say. “Due to Johnson Park’s location within a flood plain and the real, undeniable threat of climate change, it is in the best interest of the animals to close the Johnson Park Animal Haven and rehome them in more resilient locations.”
The Office of Parks and Recreation employees are conducting thorough research and are following all United States Department of Agriculture and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife guidelines to rehome the animals in proper facilities.
“I am really happy that they’re willing to do the right thing and move the animals to a great loving sanctuary that can handle every specific animal’s needs,” Ratliff said.
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