What’s a zoology department without a zoo? That’s what scientists and nature conservationists at Tel Aviv University (TAU) Zoo say. Beside one of the nation’s busiest highways and next door to the country’s largest city is a six-acre zoo, home to jackals, fat sand rats, a pack of wolves, pink flamingos and more. It is one of two university zoos existing in the world, they say (the other one is in Germany). Typical commercial zoos in Israel such as the Ramat Gan Safari have been getting a bad rap lately, part in parcel to the help of Israel’s SPCA (and yours truly) where Gadi Vitner runs a tight and mean campaign to get abused animals out of zoos and feral cats off the streets. But there is something so TreeHugger about the TAU Zoo. You can walk in off the street (the door’s not locked) and one of the first things you can see are frantic young chickens running across the pathway leading to researcher’s labs up the stairs. Animals are not kept in cages and when possible, their offspring are released to the wild.The goals at the zoo are threefold:
1. To offer a living learning environment for zoologists
2. To conserve animals such as vultures and falcons through breeding programs
3. To educate children and the general public about nature conservation
Upon entering the zoo you get the laid-back feeling of being in a Kibbutz (Israel’s version of a commune), although visiting the Zoological Gardens at TAU alone is not encouraged and most likely not allowed. With a phone call and a small fee of about $5 you can get a tour of Israel’s indigenous animals as they roam freely around the zoo. Some animals like the snakes, birds and mongooses (which sneak in) come and go as they please. Day webcams and infrared cameras focused on some of the animals frolicking about can be seen through here.
A nature lover and teacher in Tel Aviv built the zoo 70 years ago. Back then its mandate was to be able to educate future generations on the importance of nature conservation. Today, the University attracts and sponsors youths from Israel’s marginalized communities to spend a day at the zoo.