Before ‘Tiger King,’ there was the Jackson, NJ ‘Tiger Lady’
Long before Joe Exotic became famous, a big cat sanctuary in New Jersey made national headlines.
It was on Nov. 12, 2003 that the state of New Jersey took over the compound in Jackson run by Joan Byron-Masarek that housed 24 tigers. The seizure of the facility was the culmination of four years of wrangling between the state and Byron-Masarek over her exotic animal license.
The compound gained notoriety in 1999 when a loose 430 pound Bengal tiger was roaming around Jackson. Authorities tried unsuccessfully to tranquilize it and eventually killed in someone’s driveway. At first, it was assumed that the animal escaped from Great Adventure’s Safari Park (since it’s in Jackson), but they said all their tigers were accounted for. That put the spotlight on Masarek’s “Tigers Only Preservation.” She said it wasn’t one of her cats, but state officials said a DNA test proved that it was.
The incident did bring increased scrutiny on her facility, however, and state regulators determined that the animals were living in substandard conditions (described as “squalid” and “heartbreaking”) and it needed to be shut down. When they came to get the tigers, it was even worse than they thought with the big cats living surrounded by feces and urine; the head of the Humane Society told the New York Post “It’s like one gigantic cat-litter box in there, the scent is just wafting through the air. It’s an overall nightmare.” The cats were relocated to an animal sanctuary in Texas.
According to the Asbury Park Press, the site of the sanctuary was bought out of foreclosure in 2017 and an office park is planned.