LITTLE FERRY, N.J. -- Since word got out a month ago that Joan Byron-Marasek was keeping 17 tigers in the middle of Jackson Township, other residents around the state might not be blamed for wondering whether there were rhinoceroses down the road or perhaps giraffes in the next town.
Not likely, said Paulette Nelson, a senior biologist with the state Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife. Byron-Marasek's Tigers Only Preserve is a rarity in New Jersey, a state that animal specialists and conservationists say is one of the strictest when it comes to allowing people to keep unusual animals.
While New Jersey issued about 10,000 permits last year to owners of such small exotic pets as snakes, ferrets, Siberian hamsters and various species of finches and cockatoos, it was far stingier with permits for larger beasts, like Byron-Marasek's tigers.
Only 246 such permits were issued last year, Nelson said. Wildlife officials want strict controls on the importing and exhibiting of exotic creatures, she said, to discourage trade that could further diminish their numbers in the wild, as well as to limit the dangers that imported animals might pose to local species.
Keepers of bats, monkeys
Still, there are some notables among those who have joined the Tiger Lady of Jackson Township on the state permit list. There is Joseph D'Angeli of Little Ferry, with his basement compound containing a dozen fruit bats from Egypt and Indonesia, with wingspans of up to 5 feet.
And there is Joseph Bush of Cherry Hill, with his three capuchin monkeys from South America, who watch television from their cages in his home when they aren't on the road with him playing bar mitzvahs, conventions or Atlantic City casinos.
Bush calls himself the state's only organ grinder licensed to exhibit monkeys. He says that dealing with exotic animals is not for everyone, and he has never kept more than three of the monkeys at once.
"I used to be a musician, and then 25 years ago, when I was in between bands, I bought this monkey and became a solo act," said Bush in a practiced rapid-fire delivery that consciously plays for the rim shot. "Now I make more money and I can depend on them, because I have the key to the cage."
His white-faced capuchin monkeys live in a cage in one of the bedrooms of his Cherry Hill home, and he has hired them out for magazine advertisements, television commercials, birthday parties, "meet and greets" at corporate functions as well as Atlantic City, where they are among the roving attractions.
Bush said he is one of 10 people in the state licensed to keep monkeys, and occasionally he gets a surprise visit from a curious child who has moved into the neighborhood and has heard about the guy with the monkeys. But he said that, in general, he and other handlers of exotic capuchins, macaques and spider monkeys keep a low profile for fear of attracting attention from animal rights activists.
"People are so whacked out that they don't think any animal ought to be in captivity," Bush said.
A matter of passion
For D'Angeli, bats are not so much his pets as his passion. All his neighbors know about the unusual creatures in his basement, as do hordes of schoolchildren to whom he gives lectures and audiences at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. He and his bats have also appeared on television, on David Letterman's talk show and on "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee."
"They call me the real Batman," D'Angeli said of the children in many of his audiences. "But then some of the kids get upset when I don't have a cape on."
A member of the American Zoological Society and a consultant on bats to zoos and nature centers, D'Angeli became intrigued with the creatures because of the large colony of indigenous brown bats that live in the nearby Hackensack Meadowlands. He read all that he could on the subject, and seven years ago he obtained his first large bat, an Indian flying fox from Indonesia.
Pub Date: 03/14/99