Many major cities just wouldn’t be the same without their zoo, and Jerusalem is no different. And because Jerusalem is such an extraordinary place, its zoo has to be too. So extraordinary in fact, that the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has become one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel, especially for families (during 2014 it was the second most visited site in Israel, after Masada).
Officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem gets its name thanks to its heavy play on wildlife from the Hebrew bible, alongside a program of breeding endangered species.
The Jerusalem Zoo is today jointly managed by city authorities and the Israel Ministry of Tourism and its main message remains true to its founding principles of education: if you want to learn about nature, animal protection, preservation and wildlife environmental awareness in Israel, the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem is the place to go.
The Jerusalem Zoo that visitors see today covers over 62 acres and is a far cry from its humble beginnings. Originally founded in the center of Jerusalem by Hebrew University zoologist Prof. Aharon Shulov, it moved between various sites in the city until it was relocated in 1951 to a 15 acre site in Romema.
For much of its time it was actually a place where university students could augment their learnings and gain hands on zoology experience but it also started to attract visitors and tourists who heard about the wide variety of animals there. Finally, in 1993 the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was reopened on a spectacularly large man-made lake near the Malha Mall and the new railway station.
The Jerusalem Zoo is basically on two levels and easy to walk around (for those who need it, you can easily get around on the Zoo train which is wheelchair friendly). Landscaped with trees and plants mentioned in the bible, you can see over 170 species of animals, again closely associated with the bible but also additional animals that any respectable zoo would have…
On the lower level just inside the zoo, there’s the lake and its two monkey islands. The waterfall at Moses’ Rock feeds the lake and the water is crisscrossed in places by ropes where you can see the monkeys swinging (and often making a lot of noise!).
In other areas of the Zoo specific exhibits are purposely built to be representative of the species, such as the house for the Lesser Kestrels based on buildings in the Morasha district, formerly a nesting ground for these birds. From alpaca to zebra, from pelicans to parakeets and from giraffes to snow leopards, there’s bound to be your favorite animal to see at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, and where it’s an animal with a biblical reference there’s also a verse in Hebrew, Arabic and English included on its information sign.
Other attractions are in keeping with the biblical theme. The Visitor’s Center resembles Noah’s Ark and the jungle gym is in the shape of animals, while there’s also a sculpture garden featuring large, mosaic and mirrored animal representations.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo presents its educational programs at the Visitor’s Center which also has an auditorium, computer stations and also houses special temporary exhibits.
If you’re taking the kids, check out the days the zoo is holding special “hands on” shows where they can get up close and personal with the non-dangerous animals. Elsewhere, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo caters for children with a petting area, plus there are 3D films of animals in a small theater.
There are several snack bars and a coffee shop and there are picnic tables and benches throughout the zoo. With an art gallery and gift shop, you can always take home a unique souvenir of your visit.
Expect to spend a good 2-3 hours here, even more if you’re with kids who adore animals!
Current Ticket Prices (2016)
Adults (age 18 and up) – 55 NIS
Children (3 – 18), Seniors, and Soldiers – 42 NIS
Children below age 3 – FREE
Expect some discounts if you’re in a large group (25 or more people).
Sunday – Thursday: 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM (5:00 PM in the off-season)
Friday and Holiday Eves: 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Saturday and Holidays 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM (5:00 PM in the off-season)
Note that the ticket booth closes one hour before closing time.
And yes, the Biblical Zoo has a Facebook page!