Take a trip to Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge in Forked River

As you prepare your list of things to do this summer with the family, with the kids, with friends, or on a date, make sure you mark down a visit or two at the Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge located in the Forked River section of Lacey Township.

There are more than 200 animals and birds there, rescues taken in and cared for, and on another front — there are plenty of events starting up in the weeks ahead as we head into summer.

John Bergmann, the Director of the Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge, along with Danny Mendez, the Director of Education at the Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge, were guests yesterday morning on ‘Shore Time with Vin and Dave’, which is on weekly every Sunday morning from 6-8 am on 94.3ThePoint and 105.7TheHawk.

On the show, Bergmann and Mendez spoke with Dave Crossan and me on what happens at the zoo and how you can have some fun this summer.

They have all different kinds of animals on-site as well to see, pet, feed, and learn more about them and get a better appreciation for them.

“It’s not a conventional zoo by any means, we get a phone call, and all of the sudden — 15-20 years ago someone called me and said ‘hey, we got an elephant that we have a problem with, do you want an elephant?’ so, you never know what’s going to be on the other side of that phone,” Bergmann said. “When we’re building things to take in animals or redoing areas to take that animal in, there’s really not a rhyme or reason at this point. We don’t sit back and say ‘hey, we’re going to get new lions’ Coming in and we’re going to have a new exhibit and have two years to build that exhibit’, we’re working really fast to save those animals.”

John Bergmann, Director of Popcorn Park Zoo. (Photo Courtesy: Danielle Mania/Popcorn Park Zoo).

John Bergmann, Director of Popcorn Park Zoo. (Photo Courtesy: Danielle Mania/Popcorn Park Zoo).

All of the animals there are rescues, Mendez explains, so they care for all of them but they also provide a new and safe home.

“That means that the animals are also a little more interactive with you because a lot of these animals sustain injuries or were kept improperly, a lot of them require medical attention and permanent care at the facility — as a result, they interact with people more than a typical zoo animal would and I think that’s one of the biggest advantages of coming to Popcorn Park Zoo,” Mendez said. “We’re a sanctuary, we’re the last chance for a lot of these animals, they had nowhere to go, many of them to us on death’s door and they’re thankful for that and you can see that they appreciate human contact and they want it in a lot of cases.”

John Bergman, Popcorn Park Zoo

John Bergman, Popcorn Park Zoo

We’ve sadly seen cases over the years at the Jersey Shore and across New Jersey where pets and animals are left in absolutely deplorable conditions and neglected severely by the people who are supposed to take care of them.

In some cases along those lines, animals are covered in filth or their own feces and urine, malnourished, sick, unvaccinated, and so on.

When these animals have been through all that, it can be hard for them to trust people because they’re scared.

At the Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge, the team on site helps restore some much-needed TLC (but not chasing waterfalls) to their lives and provides a safe place to live and have fun.

“Many years ago, we took in two tigers — Dante and Gina — they both came from Texas and it was a hardship case and stuff but Dante, the male — we had to sedate them, bring them off the truck, put them in a den — the next morning when he woke up, it was almost like he’s been there all his life, he was chuffy and talking to us, and come right up to the gate,” Bergmann said. “Gina, the female, was right under the bench and stayed under the bench, didn’t want to leave that bench and then if you turn your back, she’d make some growls and come out, but only because you turned your back on her. This went on for oh for a good month or so and it happened to be a Sunday and I brought my wife with me that morning. I was cleaning the dens and stuff, she took the bucket, turned it over and sat down and she brought a book and she was reading, and she was reading out loud and something sparked in Gina and (she) came out from under that bench and started chuffing and it changed her whole life.”

For care in treating the animals that come in, they receive expansive care from the veterinarians and staff on site.

John Bergman, Popcorn Park Zoo

John Bergman, Popcorn Park Zoo

When they’re eating, the animals take in all kinds of diets.

“We try to afford them the best kind of diet possible. It varies, so for instance, our carnivores will eat anything from ground meat to rodents, (and) fish — it really depends on the animals and their specific needs but we do try to basically give them a very varied diet and of course, a healthy diet,” Mendez said.

There will be some guided tours by Mendez and some of the volunteers in the weeks and summer months ahead as well as some special events taking place at the Popcorn Park Zoo and Animal Refuge including the “Lions, Tigers, and Beers festival” which is scheduled for June 11 from 4:00 to 7:00 pm featuring food trucks, over 50 craft breweries, wineries, craft soda makers, 50/50 raffles, and more.

“We’re super excited about this event. You, basically, are going to come into the zoo and sample over 50 craft breweries and wines, we’re going to have food trucks, snacks of all kinds and it’s just going to be a really fun time to kind of hang out in the zoo and sample some really good food and wine and enjoy the animals and most importantly, it’s a fundraiser for us,” Mendez said. “We do rely a lot on fundraising for feeding our animals and the proper care so if you are available June 11, come out and have a good time.”

You can listen to the full conversation that me and Dave Crossan had with John Bergmann and Danny Mendez, right here.

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