The Garden State is home to a diverse wild animal population. While your family has probably been to a zoo, visiting some special places that rehabilitate injured, orphaned, or habituated creatures will give your kids a new appreciation for what it means to care for animals. And allowing them to see firsthand what happens to animals that became pets—but weren’t meant to be pets—provides you with a great answer to the question: “But why can’t I have a pet monkey?”
Popcorn Park Zoo takes in locals and exotics, so you’ll see lions, camels, and Australian wallabies, in addition to native wildlife and farm animals. The reptiles and monkeys are sensitive to cold, so go on a day that’s at least 60 degrees. Forked River; 609-693-1900
Marine Mammal Stranding Center rehabilitates whales, dolphins, seals, and sea turtles. You can view some of them through the glass doors of the pool house and on the monitors in the museum, which also contains artifacts and a “Please Touch” display that the kids will love.
The Raptor Trust specializes in native birds of prey, including endangered species like bald eagles. Kids can take home pamphlets about the birds they saw, efforts to rehabilitate them, and what families can do to help prevent injuries to wild birds.
Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge sits on 171 acres in the Pinelands. Its rehabilitation hospital treats nearly 4,000 wild animals yearly. Those that can be fully rehabilitated get released back into the wild; those that aren’t live in the Wildlife Housing Area, where visitors can meet permanent residents like Reggie the Screech Owl and Shadow the Gray Fox. The on-site nature center has hands-on exhibits, a playroom for younger kids, and a reptile room with tree frogs, snakes, and the like. The Refuge also hosts a family activity and a “knee-high naturalist” program monthly. Check the website for updated information.
Renée Sagiv Riebling is a freelance writer from central New Jersey. She and her husband and two children are always on the lookout for new and exciting adventures.