David Lawrence-Young – The Jerusalem Zoo
Although Israel is known as the Holy Land and every year millions of tourists come to see its holy sites, one of the most popular sites of all is the Jerusalem Zoo. This zoo founded by Prof. Aharon Shulov started off in 1940 as a small ‘animal corner’ downtown in the city. He set it up as a place where his students could study the different birds, reptiles and animals mentioned in the Bible at first hand. However, the professor ran into two main problems: the Hebrew language and the zoo’s neighbours.
Problems with the language included how to translate the names of Biblical animals into modern Hebrew and also English. The most quoted example of this is how to translate the Hebrew word ‘nesher’. Is it an eagle or a vulture?
And as for Prof. Shulov’s neighbours, they objected to the noises and smells that were a natural part of the zoo. They were also scared about the possibility of snakes and other animals escaping into their neighbourhood. As a result, the zoo moved to a larger site still in the city centre but despite more unneighbourly complaints, it stayed where it was until 1946. From here it moved to the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus until 1950 and then was relocated to Romema on the outskirts of the city until 1991.
It was during this last period that I learned to like the zoo even though I thought that the facilities provided for both the animals and the public really needed improving. This problem was solved in 1990 when the New York Tisch family donated $5 million out of a future budget of $30 million in order to build a huge purpose-built zoo in Jerusalem. Other funds came from the Jerusalem Foundation, the Ministry of Tourism, the Jerusalem municipality and private donors. The completely new zoo opened in Malha, in the south-west of the city in September 1993.
This Malha site is situated in a beautiful green valley which is like a park with picnic sites and a motorized train which carries visitors all around from the lions and bears on the hillside to the ducks, swans and other birds in the lake below. There is also a coffee shop, several snack-bars and a special Children’s Animal Petting area. The zoo also shows films about animals and an ongoing film about the zoo is screened in a large wooden Noah’s Ark which overlooks the ‘Africa’ area which is home to zebras, rhinos, giraffes and several sorts of African birds. There are explanatory notices in Hebrew, English and Arabic as well as quotes from the Bible where relevant. An example of this is taken from Isaiah 11.7 – And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together. One of these notices is also in Yiddish. This is by the peccary enclosure and as well as referring to its breeding and eating habits, the notice informs the visitors, especially the religious ones that this pig-like creature ‘is nischt a hazzir.’
Today the zoo has well over two thousand animals, fish and reptiles and it is also involved in various international breeding projects to save several animals from extinction. The animals’ food is donated by Israeli food companies and during Passover, all the food is chametz-free! Animals that eat bread learn to live on matzo instead.
From a small zoo stuck away in the centre of Jerusalem nearly eighty years ago, the zoo is now a thoroughly modern concern which is visited by hundreds of thousands of Israelis and foreign tourists every year.