On 62 acres in southwest Jerusalem, you can see sights that are rare in the rest of Israel. Near-extinct animals coming back to life. Penguins sauntering and oryxes roaming. Secular Jewish Israelis, haredi Israelis and Arabs peacefully coexisting.
Since its founding two decades ago in the Malha Valley, Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo (the official name is The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, for New York’s philanthropic Tisch family, which provided much of the site’s seed money) has become a popular oasis, attracting mixed crowds to the exhibits where more than 2,000 animals and 270 species live.
The zoo features a swan-filled lake and a petting zoo, an “Underground World” where kids can crawl through tunnels for a glimpse of subterranean animal life, an animal-themed jungle gym, a visitor’s center shaped like Noah’s Ark, a 3-D theater, shade provided by olives trees and palm trees, and trenches and moats that replace a traditional zoo’s bars and cages.
While Israelis and tourists from disparate religious and ethnic backgrounds also browse and shop together without incident in such places as museums and malls, the zoo may be the largest-such site of such cultural tranquility in the country. A Palestinian woman, above, pushes a baby stroller past an Israeli family feeding a goat.
The zoo — under the auspices of the Municipality of Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Jerusalem Development Foundation and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism — has become a center for animal breeding and birth control, surgery and other forms of advanced medical treatment, jazz concerts and an annual tug of war between the entire Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team and a resident elephant.
Though formed in 1939 to serve as a home for wildlife mentioned in the Torah, the zoo, which has spent the subsequent years in several Jerusalem locations, now breeds endangered species from around the world.
It made news in recent days: the birth of a pair of white-mantled Tamarin monkeys and the announcement that an aquarium, featuring the sea life of the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, will open there in 2015.