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Animals at a New Jersey Petting Zoo Find Their Happily Ever After

From Brittany Michelson, IDA In Defense of Animals
January 2024

Fighting for the liberation of these animals has been an eye-opening journey and has transformed my own life in addition to transforming the lives of the animals. Partnering with In Defense of Animals to combine my advocacy with the organization's immense experience in animal rights justice has been an incredible opportunity. I hope that this campaign is a message to people, especially youth like myself, to stand up for what they believe in and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

petting zoo victims

A petting zoo at Thompson Park in Monroe Township, New Jersey has shut down its animal facility and as a result of our persistent advocacy efforts, the animals were sent to sanctuaries instead of other petting zoos. Back in the beginning of 2022, a teenager reached out to us with concerns about the animals there, and we’re thrilled to report on this wonderful outcome.

Minutes from his house, Thompson Park’s “animal haven” was a place Siraj Gandhi cherished as a young child. He vividly remembers visiting the animal area, feeding the deer corn husks, and watching the peacocks fan their feathers in the rain. As he matured, however, he began to see beyond the lens of human fascination. He saw those same peacocks shivering in the cold, the emu pacing in his limited area, and the pigs always out of sight in their small house, hiding from daylight. What was viewed as a haven in the eyes of many of the park’s visitors, in truth, was a nightmare for the animals.

In middle school, as part of a reformation project, Siraj set out to improve the living conditions of the animals. He wrote a letter to the mayor and knocked on house doors to get a petition signed. The mayor forwarded his letter to the Middlesex County Parks and Recreation. But after two years of letters and the pandemic in between, he realized he was not getting the county’s attention.

He reached out to In Defense of Animals at the beginning of 2022 to ask for help. During a visit to the park to check on the animals, he finally saw the pot-bellied pigs out of their house. It was clear to him from their physical condition that they were not properly cared for. Cosmo’s front leg was bent close to a 90-degree angle, and Newman was severely obese. He realized that the animals at Thompson Park weren’t simply victims of small spaces: their physical and emotional needs were being neglected too. Expanding the enclosures would not be enough. They needed to be relocated to sanctuaries where their needs would be a priority.

Siraj began attending county commissioner meetings, where he showed photo and video evidence of the deplorable conditions the animals were in. He told the commissioners that if the county did not take action, we would escalate our campaign. After months of pressure from us, the county finally agreed to release the Thompson Park animals to sanctuaries.



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