PISCATAWAY — There was a flurry of pointed questions from animal advocates at a Middlesex County Commissioner meeting after the recent pause on plans to shut down a county park's zoo that was badly flooded during Ida.

Nine people spoke during the public comment portion of the Dec. 16 meeting, all in support of having animals transferred to independent sanctuaries from the Johnson Park Animal Haven.

Among those were repeated questions about whether fallow deer had died from storm flooding at Johnson Park and also the fate of at least a dozen rabbits, after an enclosure was removed from the public’s view.

Directly before public comments began, Middlesex County Commission Director Ronald Rios repeated the Dec. 2 announcement that the county was in talks to hire a professional consultant to do a comprehensive review on whether the zoo should be entirely shut down or scaled back.

Cumberland County resident Rian Feldman, a co-founder of animal sanctuary Uncle Neil’s Home, spoke on the needs of three “critical care animals” at the zoo.

Feldman said she had proposed taking two pigs and a ram that was “in psychological distress” to her own facility, ahead of icy winter weather that would leave the animals further exposed to the elements.

Sonya Elefante, a Highland Park resident, followed up with more questions about the zoo and referred to a brief veterinarian’s note that she said was dated Sept. 7, which she said advised the county “Saw most animals - all appear in good health.”

“There is an immediate need to save some of these animals,” Eric Pearlman, a Somerset resident, said during the public comments.

A fourth person, another Somerset man, also spoke in support of having the animals removed, saying he was “outraged and disappointed” by the backtracking of previous plans to close the zoo.

Those comments were followed by a 9-year-old girl from Bridgewater, who said she’s seen all the animals in pain and wants the commissioners to “open up your hearts” and save them.

“It doesn’t take an expert to see that this park is always retaining water,” the girl's father, Darren Figueroa, also from Bridgewater, said.

He asked about whether FEMA had designated the entire park as a flood plain — to which Rios said that part of the park is considered to be in a flood plain.

Facebook/Johnson Park Zoo Animals
Facebook/Johnson Park Zoo Animals

Three other animal advocates — a woman from Somerset, a man from Highland Park and a South Plainfield woman — also questioned the commission on the halt in plans to close the animal haven.

Two county commissioners then made statements about how hiring a consultant was intended to receive well-informed advice on animals, proper care and the best move forward. The quickest that process would begin would be in January 2022, county officials have said.

Following the meeting, the commission OK'd Feldman to take the three animals she had drawn up a request and plan for, as reported by NJ.com, among seven animals moved from the park since September.

A mother goat and two kids were transferred previously to RJ Stokley’s Celestial Acres in Long Valley, while a fourth goat was transferred to Goats of Anarchy Hampton.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misquoted Sonya Elefante, paraphrasing a veterinarian, as saying "Sell" instead of "Saw."

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