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Oasis in the City

The Zoological Center of Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan (Safari) has recreated an African savannah in the most densely populated part of Israel. by Heidi J. Gleit


When thinking about Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, which are in the center of the most densely populated part of Israel, many people picture modern skyscrapers, huge highways clogged with cars and trucks, and crowds of people. The last thing that most people would expect to find in the middle of this urban jungle is an open, natural area where zebra, antelopes, and hippos roam and interact.


The Zoological Center (Safari) of Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan has recreated an African savannah in the Ramat Gan National Park. The largest zoo in the Middle East houses some 1,600 animals, representing over 200 species on a 250-acre park and hosts about half a million guests annually. The gardens and animal enclosures of a zoo that visitors can walk through covers about 45 acres. The rest is an African park in which several hundred animals live in conditions similar to their natural habitats. One of the unique aspects of the Safari is that a wide variety of species share the same area and can be seen interacting the way they would in the wild, Safari Curator Dr. Amelia Terkel explained.


(Tibor Yager, courtesy of the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan-Safari)


“If you have patience, you can see anything here,” she added.

A two-lane road winds through the open land of the Safari so that visitors can observe the animals. You can drive along the road in your own car or ride through part of it on the safari train. The train only operates during peak season, so reservations are required. Private train rides also can be arranged for groups. Plan for a visit to the Safari to take at least three hours. Refreshments can be purchased at the restaurant and enjoyed on a veranda overlooking the gibbon island and a pool with pelicans.


Building a Zoo


In the 1960s, the manager of the national park, Zvi Kirmeier, and Ramat Gan Mayor Abraham Krinitzi decided to expand the park’s small zoo. They contacted a wildlife agent in Kenya and began to investigate possibilities. After Krinitzi’s death, his successor, Dr. Israel Peled, enthusiastically continued to work with Kirmeier on the plan. They even went on a safari in Africa to collect animals for the park. They returned from their expedition with 17 animals and a contract for 200 additional animals to be brought to Israel. In 1973, the animals arrived and the safari opened in 1974.


Five years later, the Tel Aviv municipality decided to relocate the municipal zoo, which was located in the city center, just under the city hall. The planning commission contacted the Safari and a decision was made to merge the two by building facilities for a zoo in the middle of the African park. The zoo opened in 1981 and has been developing ever since.


“We are constantly taking steps to improve the zoo,” Terkel said. “Our vision is to get all the animals out of cages. We have been working for a while to change to open, more natural enclosures. Our progress is largely dependent on funding.”


(Tibor Yager, courtesy of the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan-Safari)


New more natural enclosures opened recently for the leopard, honey badgers, and cockatoos. Work is progressing on new enclosures for additional birds and for reptiles.


Native Israelis


The zoo section is home to many animals that are native to Israel and the Middle East, especially endangered species. One example is the sand cat (Felis margarita), a wild cat that is native to the Arava and Jordan. It looks so much like a street cat that it is surprising to see one in the zoo. However, since the sand cat is an endangered species the Safari is breeding them in cooperation with the Israel Zoo Association and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA). They hope to reintroduce the cats to the wild. The feasibility of doing so is under investigation, Terkel explained. She noted that the fox and red wolf population in the Arava has grown so significantly that it may not be safe to return the small cats to their natural habitat...


One of the most interesting animals to observe is the honey badger (Mellivora capensis), whose natural habitat extends from South Africa to northern Israel... 


Well-Adjusted Immigrants


The Safari also has animals from other parts of the world, including a family of gorillas and two herds of elephants. Surprising as it may be, the elephants have adapted well to the Israeli climate. So many have been born at the Safari that there wasn’t room for them all and Israeli-born elephants can now be found at zoos worldwide...


The Safari also has South American and Australian sections. The Australian section is designed to be especially fun for children, with rope bridges and structures to climb on.


For the Birds


Bird-lovers will find much to praise at the Safari...


The full article appeared in ERETZ Magazine 105. To read it, subscribe to ERETZ Magazine.


(Tibor Yager, courtesy of the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan-Safari)


The full article appeared in ERETZ Magazine 105. To read it, subscribe to ERETZ Magazine.





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