490 Apartments Approved Near Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Opponents fear for animals' health, mental well-being.

A plan to build 490 apartments near the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo received final approval last week, despite claims that the noise, lighting and pollution accompanying the project could harm the animals.

The National Housing Committee, which arose recently as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to ease the housing shortage by expediting approval for construction, adopted the position of the zoo's chief veterinarian, who said the animals would be fine if certain steps were taken to reduce potential harm.

The committee is prohibiting developers from shining light on the zoo or using detonations during construction. They must take steps to minimize dust and the zoo must monitor the animals closely during construction. The zoo, which is also called the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, is planning to check the animals' hormones regularly as a way of testing their stress levels.

It is possible "to almost totally minimize and neutralize the potential damage caused to the animals," the zoo's chief veterinarian, Nili Avni-Magen, wrote in her report to the committee.

The Interior Ministry said the project is intended to ease the housing shortage in the capital, especially for young people, since the project will include small rental apartments.

Each building in the complex will have five to seven floors, and the complex will also include a shopping center, roads and public parks.

But opponents said they feared that even if the animals escaped the construction unscathed, residents of the new apartments - the closest of which will be 60 meters away from the gate surrounding the zoo - would eventually seek to move the zoo because of the ruckus caused by the animals.

Zoologist Tamar Ron warned that the noise, light and dust caused by the construction could damage the physical and mental health of endangered species and other animals.

"Dr. Ron added that excessive proximity between the zoo and residential buildings or other construction is liable to create permanent distress among the animals," committee records state. "It is noted that animals exposed to light, permanent or temporary noise and dust suffer from mental distress and damage to their health. It is noted that it's not clear how to prevent this suffering among animals."

Ron also said there was a special obligation to ease the distress of these animals, partly because they cannot go elsewhere and partly because the zoo has some animals in danger of extinction. That creates "an obligation to the whole world to preserve the well-being of these animals," she said.

In deciding to allow construction near the zoo, the committee said Avni-Magen had convinced it that "taking the steps detailed in the letter provided by the zoo's veterinarian will minimize damage to the animals living in the zoo and allow the zoo to continue operating, both during the construction and while the neighborhood is populated."