November 28, 2010
JERUSALEM, Israel -- The public display of the Scriptures in the U.S. has sparked debate and even legal battles in recent years. However, in Jerusalem, even the zoo has a biblical theme.
It is a little known fact that monkeys were among the treasures the ships of Tarshish brought to King Solomon every three years. That piece of knowledge and many others come to life at the Tische Family Zoological Gardens known to many as the Biblical Zoo. Some 700,000 visitors a year also learn there is more to animal life in Israel than camels and sheep.
Not far from the busy streets of Jerusalem, the 60-acre Biblical Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals. Many of them are native to Israel or have become extinct in the Holy Land. Yet, the zoo has brought them back to their native land.
That includes animals fought by a young shepherd named David. The Syrian brown bear, which lived in northern Israel, hasn't existed there for more than 100 years.
Lions no longer prowl the hills of Israel, but at one time their presence was commonplace.
"We think the Asian lion is the lion that roamed the land of Israel more than 800 years ago and is mentioned in the Bible of course and is also the symbol of Jerusalem and the tribe of Judah," said Tamar Raviv, marketing representative.
Although elephants are not found in the Bible, ivory is mentioned several times as a precious commodity.
Some Jewish sages believed the "mountain sheep" was actually a giraffe, and the behemoth in the Book of Job is thought to be a hippopotamus.
In the Bible land, preserve animals of the Bible can be seen roaming freely in an area like their natural habitat, like the nubian ibex referred to as a "wild goat" in the Bible. The horns of the male can grow more than 50 inches long and served as shofars, ceremonial horns in the ancient Jewish temple.
Other animals like the Persian fallow deer were totally extinct in Israel.
"Today thanks to a special breeding program, you can actually see them in many parts of Israel in nature," Raviv said.
There's a Noah's Ark visitor center designed to capture the biblical concept of preserving animal life.
"So this is one of our symbols, which connects our biblical stories to the actual thing that we are doing here now today," Raviv added.
Yet the Biblical Zoo is about more than just animals. It's all about co-existance in Jerusalem.
"We want everyone to come and feel welcome in a place that has a common interest, which is the animals, which is nature, which is conservation," Raviv said.