Jerusalem has no shortage of famous historical attractions to visit and must-stop locations to see. While anyone visiting is sure to already have a packed itinerary, there is one more place you should put on your list – the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
The zoo is one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions, beloved by families and people of all ages. If you're looking for information on the zoo, you should know that officially it is referred to as the "Tisch Family Zoological Gardens.” That said, if you were asking someone on the street for directions to it, it is known more commonly as the Biblical Zoo. Why? Because the zoo features animals found in the Bible! This blending of biblical education and fun is what has made the zoo such a beloved location for Jerusalem residents and tourists alike!
In fact, you can see our own Rev. Dr. John Tweedie at the Biblical Zoo during season 12 of Israel: The Prophetic Connection! Keep an eye out for it!
But, it wasn't always like this, in fact, the zoo has had quite an interesting history. Far from the institution it is today, there was a time when the zoo was considered a nuisance!
From humble beginnings
Established in 1940, the zoo was originally opened on Rabbi Kook Street in central Jerusalem. At this time, it was a tiny attraction called the "animal corner.” It was founded by a professor, Aharon Shulov, of the University of Jerusalem as a kind of passion project. He needed a place where his students could gather, study, and interact with animals, but he also was very mindful of class and privilege. Part of making the zoo publicly accessible was in the interest of breaking down the "invisible wall” between the general public and the intellectual cliques on Mount Scopus. He wanted university students and professors to rub elbows with the public and find common ground in the beauty of nature.
While his heart was in the right place, Shulov's first attempt with the zoo didn't exactly go as planned. The animal corner became a source of consternation with the locals. Neighbours complained of the loud noises the animals would make (especially at night) and the smell. Some even claimed they were worried about escaping animals (a little hyperbolic considering the zoo mostly held lizards and birds at the time). So the zoo was moved to another small lot on Shmuel HaNavi street where it again became a source of friction. Eventually, in 1947, the zoo was moved to Mount Scopus. At this point the zoo had grown in size and scope and was holding a variety of exotic animals. Sadly, this was just in time for the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the siege of Jerusalem.
The conflict forced the zoo to be moved again, to the neighbourhood of Givat Komuna where thankfully it would stay put for more than 40 years. Shulov still ran the zoo as a passion project. At this time the zoo had been ravaged by the conflict and the keepers where only able to save a few animals, a shadow of what it had grown into at Mount Scopus. Shulov never lost hope though and worked hard to rebuild the zoo, often forgoing his own salary in the interest of supporting the zoo.
After his retirement, mayor Teddy Kollek, a long time supporter of Shulov and the zoo hatched a plan to move it one last time. The zoo would be moved to a larger location with the support of the city, commercial developments, and private foundations. It would be located in an area accessible to both Jewish and Arab families alike in the Malha valley.
The modern zoo
Today, Aharon Shulov might not even recognize his animal kingdom! The modern location spans a massive 62 acres and is home to more than 170 species of animals! The vast majority of which are still connected to the Bible in some way. And that's not all, even the trees and plants of the landscaping are all biblically connected, drawing on flora found in the Bible. Even the Visitor's Centre is designed to resemble Noah's Ark. It's an incredible experience that is fun for the entire family.
Other attractions include the monkey islands. These are a series of habitats at the bottom of the waterfall at Moses' Rock. Between the locations and across the water are a series of ropes the monkeys use to swing across and explore! It is a sight that has to be seen to be believed.
Then there are the aviaries for the Lesser Kestrels, designed to resemble the building from the Morasha district of the city. You might ask why an aviary would try to look more like a city, but there is a very good reason! The neighbourhood used to be a popular nesting ground for these birds and every year scores of baby Kestrels would hatch across its rooftops. So the design honours are part of the neighbourhood's past while also providing the Kestrels with a safe and healthy habitat.
Preservation and conservation is a huge theme at the zoo. Endangered local species are collected for the express purpose of persevering the species with a progressive breeding and reintroduction program that has seen great results. Even the construction of the zoo was done with the local environment in mind, with the goal of minimal impact on the existing landscape. Because of this, animal enclosures were dug directly into the rock face of the hills, rather than flattening these natural slopes and putting up artificial enclosures.
And of course, there is a petting zoo. The hands-on shows are only available during certain days of the week, but they are always a thrill for children (and their parents). If you're visiting Israel with the family, be sure to check the dates and plan accordingly!
If you're going to be in Jerusalem, you owe it to yourself to visit the Biblical Zoo!