Haifa Educational Zoo is a world unto itself, where one can still hear the call of the wild.On entering the Haifa Educational Zoo, one’s heart, lungs and soul immediately react. Serenity takes over you as you breathe in the air that seems to be of different character than the air outside. In one’s mind, the combined aromas of the flora and fauna are primordial.
A meerkat curiously cranes its neck to watch a newcomer, the lion adopts a blasé attitude about it all and the other animals—more than 100 species of wildlife—also seem quite content, yet there is an ongoing debate about zoos, a debate the zoo’s manager, Dr. Etty Ararat, is well-aware of: “People just don’t understand the concept of zoos. Setting the animals free in their natural habitat? No problem, I’m all for it; just find me that natural habitat. Where am I to release the Syrian brown bears, for instance? These animals no longer have a natural habitat; they were on the verge of extinction and can be now found only in zoos, because mankind is an invasive species that leaves scorched earth in its wake.
“Currently there are merely 5,000 lions left in Africa; in many cases there are way more animals in zoos than in nature. And then again, what is nature – a natural park? Animals are being hunted in parks as well. So if one claims to be against zoos, very well, but what feasible option can they offer? What zoos are trying to achieve today is to create situations where releasing animals into nature is possible. Very gradually, keeping in mind that most zoo animals were born in captivity. Above all that a zoo is the world’s insurance policy, an emergency backup in case of extinction.”
Having talked about the elephant in the room, so to speak, we move on to the (surprisingly) controversial issue of the white tigers, a national attraction. “I spoke in Leipzig about the 2006 Lebanon War,” relays Ararat, “how Haifa withstood the rocket attacks, and how we protected our animals, putting them into their night dwellings, keeping them busy, and preventing them from being stressed. For 47 days, whenever an alarm was sounded we went to be with them, in all conditions. As a result, there was no mortality, no stress, no nothing.
“After hearing me, the manager of the Moscow Zoo, a friend of Putin’s, approached me and said, ‘I’ll give you whatever animal you choose’. That’s how we got the white tigers, and for two years people from all over the country kept on coming to see them. But the thing is zoos around the world are not keen on this variant, because this is not an animal that can be released in nature, where it will be immediately turned extinct; it’s a mutation that wouldn’t survive in the wild.”
Being the manager for ten years now, Ararat managed to get the zoo accepted as a member of EAZA and WAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria and World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, respectively). “Each and every proper zoo is connected to EAZA and WAZA via a computer network. When our tigers had fluid aspirated from their hearts, the whole world knew about it – how we treated them, what were the symptoms, it’s all medically recorded and monitored.
“Similarly, I cannot breed animals just because I feel like it; there’s a masterplan and it’s fascinating to watch what happens globally. People see it as a prison, as cruelty to animals, but what we are doing is in fact a service to nature and the animal kingdom.
“When a zoo is a member of WAZA it means animals are allowed to be transferred to it. If, for instance, I wish to add to our collection a fossa, a Madagascar feline-like predator related to the mongoose, I can get it free of charge, because I meet the international standards. And yes, a fossa is on its way to the Haifa Zoo.”