23) The Year Rhinos and Black Bears Ruled New Jersey

In the last post you read about me living on a farm while in the Air Force. In this post you will read about my job as a Wild Animal Park Ranger in New Jersey and my sister Darla.

1972: From Minot, North Dakota to Wanaque, New Jersey

While I was in the DC area during the summer of 1972, attending Air National Guard meetings one week-end a month, I stayed with my sister, Darla. By that time, Darla was in her late thirties and had a family of her own. She generously let me bunk in her finished basement in Wanaque, New Jersey; just a few hours from where I was to report each month as an active reservist.

She Could Have Been Anything But Chose to be a Mom – My Sister Darla

Darla helped me through this difficult period and inspired me with her enthusiasm and ability to let anyone feel important. She still has that gift. “Why don’t you come to work with me at Jungle Habitat?” Darla would ask. Standing strong and athletic, yet intensely engaging, Darla talked nearly non-stop. A Mom whose children has many health problems, Darla laughs easily and always finds a way to encourage those around her. “We have an opening for a Park Ranger,” she said. Darla’s own life could easily fill another book. I will always be in her debt for her help that summer.

Jungle Habitat
http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungle Habitat

“Jungle Habitat, located in West Milford , New Jersey , was a Warner Brothers -owned theme park that opened in the summer of 1972,…”

Darla was able to secure a job interview for me at Jungle Habitat, and I was hired within a week or two after that. It was a crazy job.

“Agga, agga!” said the squat, cranky, head of animal training, prodding the rhinoceros with a long pole. “Get these fucking cars to go around, can’t you see the animals are upset?” he barked into his radio with his thick Australian accent. The beasts were standing squarely in front of a long line of cars, that were driving through the rhino compound, not letting them pass. Merely curious but sometimes menacing, animal versus touring cars were a regular occurrence that summer.

Wild Animal Park Ranger: My Favorite Job in New Jersey

My first assignment as a ranger was to man a 22 foot-high lookout tower high above the bear compound. Black bears in cages are not intimidating. Like the other animals at Jungle Habitat, these were wild (not zoo animals) running loose within a fenced area of about one square mile. Being in my tower and out the reach with a gun and two-way radio, I was better-off than Blue, my partner down on the ground. Like the rhinos, sometimes these big boys would block the road in front of the cars. Blue came to know the bears and would often have to try to move them. He found the spray from a fire extinguisher worked pretty well. At the time, we didn’t know it. But being a Wild Animal Park Ranger at Jungle Habitat was a dangerous job. Please click on the link above for evidence.

My Unremarkable Military Career Ends Mercifully in Washington, DC

It turns out I wasn’t a very good active reservist either and quit attending my monthly meetings. The Air National Guard made a half-hearted attempt to force compliance but eventually gave up. I was granted an Honorable Discharge in July of 1972, after serving only two years, 3 months and 24 days in the Air Force.

Were you in the Air National Guard?

Next: White Punk Gets a Quick Tan in Miami

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