As I mentioned in a previous post, this is the first summer in many years when I haven’t gone abroad for a week or two. Instead, I’ve been taking a day off work here and there. The day before yesterday, I took a day’s holiday and spent it at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. As its name suggests, the Zoo originally specialised in the collection of animals from the Land of Israel, with special emphasis on those species mentioned in the Bible. With the opening of the new, expanded zoo at the start of the 1990s, the collection now encompasses also rare animals and species in danger of extinction.
I chose a day midweek, in term-time. Thus, I felt most of the time as if I had the place to myself, without hordes of noisy children. The only other people around seemed to be foreign tourists. Of course, this had its drawbacks, as it meant that the only place refreshments were available was at the cafeteria by the main gate. All the others were closed and I was told by zoo staff that they are only open during the busiest times of year. It’s fortunate that I had had the foresight to bring a bottle of water.
The Zoo is constructed on two levels, the lower level centering on a large lake, in the middle of which are islands inhabited by various kinds of monkeys.
In and around the lake, as you would expect, are many varieties of water fowl.
Later in the day, round about 4 p.m. after school let out and it grew cooler, family groups began to arrive and the area around the lake became quite crowded, but in the morning, when I first arrived, sitting on a bench on one of the paths overlooking the water, I felt a great sense of peace, listening to the bird song from the branches overhead and watching the swans and pelicans. It was the kind of tranquility that I associate with my favourite lakeside spot in London’s Regent’s Park.
One of the main exhibits, as you would expect from “the Biblical Zoo”, is the Bible Land Wildlife Preserve, which is crossed by a kind of wooden walkway, punctuated by lookout points which enable the visitor to view the animals from fairly close up, while still remaining out of harm’s way. The walkway also crosses “The African Savannah” and “The Deer Forest”. Here, one can find the Addax, Nubian Ibex and the White (Arabian) and Scimitar Oryx, as well as the Palestine Gazelle (Gazella gazella) and the Persian Fallow Deer.
The Persian Fallow Deer became extinct in Israel in the early 20th century but, thanks to a captive-breeding programme, this breed has now been re-introduced to the wild, both in the north of Israel and in the Jerusalem hills and, in fact, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is now home to the largest zoo-kept herd of Persian Fallow Deer in the world.
In the African Savannah are rhino, hippopotami, giraffes, zebras and so on.
The view from the walkway over the Jerusalem Hills, is also stunningly beautiful:
Other animals, which, while not native to the Land of Israel, are mentioned in the Bible, are also to be found – such as monkeys, chimpanzees and other varieties of ape. There is also an impressive collection of parrots. We are told that King Solomon (who, by the way, was reputed to understand the language of animals and to be able to converse with them) possessed a fleet of ships which sailed the seas and regularly brought back treasures, including rare animals.
“For the king had at sea the ships of Tarshish with the ships of Hiram; once every three years the ships of Tarshish came bringing gold and silver, ivory and apes and parrots” (I Kings 10:22).
The Hebrew word tukkiyim (תכיים) is generally translated into English as “peacocks” or sometimes, as “guinea-fowl”. In modern Hebrew however, it means “parrots” and is used as such at the Zoo and therefore, also by me. However, the Zoo has peacocks as well – although the latter were exceedingly uncooperative when I attempted to photograph them. 😉
Whenever I go to the Regent’s Park Zoo in London, I have a tendency to spend hours watching the meerkats. I adore meerkats. The Jerusalem Zoo also has a meerkat exhibit, with tunnels enabling visitors to enter the exhibit and observe the animals from the safety of perspex domes just large enough to allow the head to emerge inside the recreated African plain as if one was part of the landscape. The tunnels being rather small and not very high, the only visitors I saw taking advantage of this were children.
At the far end of the Zoo (i.e. farthest away from the Main Gate) is the Noah’s Ark Visitor Centre, where there is an auditorium for films and lectures, computer stations, a gift shop and a cafeteria, which, alas, was closed. I was starving by now, so this was a hard blow, but I refilled my water bottle and retraced my steps in the direction of the Main Gate, where a sandwich and a can of Coca Cola worked wonders for my flagging strength. By the way, in case anyone is wondering – entrance to Noah’s Ark is not limited to couples. 😉
With renewed vigour, I set out to explore the rest of the Zoo. There is so much to see there, I cannot possibly describe it all – much less share with you all of the two hundred or so photos I took during my visit which lasted almost eight hours. But I must show you the kangaroos in the “Australian Dreamtime” exhibit and the penguins, who stood politely in line waiting to be fed, and having received a fish from their keeper, then went to the back of the queue to await their turn again…
And how could I forget the Giant Aldabra Tortoise, in danger of extinction in the wild, of which there are five young individuals at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, still relatively small but likely to live to the age of 150, by which time they will have grown to their full size and will, indeed, be giants?
And at the other end of the scale is the tiny Negev Tortoise, one of the smallest species of desert tortoises in the world, native to Israel and to the sandy deserts of northern Egypt, and critically endangered in the wild.
And then there was the Nile Crocodile exhibit and the Tropical Aviary and the Marsh Aviary where the Scarlet Ibis lives, and the bears and the lions and the elephants and the Ecological Maze and the Children’s Zoo…
I could go on and on, but I don’t want to bore my readers with too long a post. The rest must wait for another time.
Have a good week.