By Hadassah Levy
One of my favorite places to visit in Israel is the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, more commonly known as the Biblical Zoo. While it’s true that some of my family members are animal-crazy and get a kick out of seeing any animal in the flesh, that’s not the only reason we keep coming back.
The zoo is home to many species, but special emphasis has been placed on animals which are mentioned in the Bible and those that are, or were, native to the Land of Israel. As you stand at the exhibits, you’ll notice that in addition to information about the animals’ behaviors, habitats etc., there is often a biblical verse quoted. For instance, the zoo houses a few addax, mentioned in the Bible as one of seven mammals which Jews are permitted to eat. The addax is critically endangered and is mostly found in captivity today. It’s interesting to connect the animals standing in front of you with the ancient texts.
The Biblical Zoo participates in local and international conservation projects and conducts breeding and reintroduction programs. When you reach the uppermost point of the zoo, you’ll spot Noah’s Ark overlooking the African Savannah and the Bible Lands Wildlife Reserve. The ark isn’t just decorative. Inside is a small theater with a film that runs on a loop, telling the story of modern conservation from the point of view of the biblical Noah. The movie is quite humorous and worth watching from the beginning to the end. Both children and adults will enjoy it and even learn a thing or two!
The Children’s Zoo is part petting zoo and part playground. It’s a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch or rest your weary legs while your kids keep running around like the Energizer Bunny. Kids love the pygmy goats, rabbits and guinea pigs and will happily pet them for hours. The Children’s Zoo also features a Friendly Animal House with hands-on guided encounters with creatures such as ferrets, turtles, snakes, chinchillas and more. The Friendly Animal House is open to the public during holidays and school vacations.
Some tips for maximizing your visit
As a frequent visitor the zoo, I recommend a few tricks that will make your stay more pleasant:
- The zoo train is an inexpensive way to get from one end of the zoo to the other. If you only take it one way, travel with it up the hill and walk down. Your legs will thank you later.
- Some animal habitats have more than one window to look through. If you don’t see an animal at first, don’t give up right away. Walk around a bit and you may find yourself face to face with a beautiful specimen.
- The snack bars scattered around the zoo make it easy to purchase cold drinks or ice cream while you walk around. Strategically placed water fountains help you keep your water bottles full. It can get very hot at the zoo, so don’t forget to drink.
- When you purchase your ticket, you will be given a zoo map and a schedule of feedings. Try to catch at least one feeding, as these are fun and educational.
Sometimes it seems that Jerusalem is two cities: the old and the new. But places like the Biblical Zoo remind us that Jerusalem is actually one city which integrates the old into the new. The beautiful modern zoo takes us back to ancient times and reminds us of the continuity of the history of this land.
Photos by Deena Levenstein
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