When you drive inside, you might be pardoned for thinking you're in a peaceful watering hole in the African savannah, but it's the Safari Park zoo in Ramat Gan.
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The Safari Park, spread over a vast 250 acres with hundreds of species of animals, is great value for your money. Open from 9 A.M. every day, the visit starts with a drive though a simulated savannah habitat where African herbivores and ostriches roam free. It's easy to spend a whole day at the park (officially known as the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan).
Here's tip No. 1: When driving in, keep your windows closed. Although visitors are prohibited from feeding the animals, all too many do. One result is that the Safari Park ostriches may get aggressive, ramming their heads through open windows in search of peanut puffs at a speed that would do Superman proud.
Tip No. 2: Don't feed the animals, from the time you arrive to the time you leave. It's tempting because you really want to pat the zebra's silky nose as it eats from your hand, but don't. You getting bitten as you wave a lettuce leaf at an antelope is one thing – but it's bad for the animals.
The drive through the park is delightful, as you catch glimpses of multiple species of antelope, rhinos, ostriches, flamingos and so much more. There are no predators in this part of the park. If you've been there before you may wonder what happened to the hippos in the small artificial lake. Wait, just wait.
The route through the safari park leads to a large parking lot. Tip No. 3: Remember where you put your car. No, there are no markings: you have to rely on spatial memory.
Now comes the part with the zoo with cages. The sheer proliferation of the animals kept at the Ramat Gan Safari Park zoo attests to the quality of their care; in spring you will see plenty of young'uns, animals that is, and by summer many are half-grown. Note especially the monkeys and apes approaching adolescence and the baby fruit bats venturing from their mothers' chests.
Though the zoo part of the park is large, orientation is easy, thanks to friendly signposting throughout. The animals are, very roughly, grouped by species – the leopards are near the tigers with the sand cats and so on. A bunch of South American animals are also grouped together, the capybaras with the tapirs. The park has two species of elephant, one by the other, and the bears are also one by the other.
The hyenas are near the wolves, presumably because people think it's a doggie sort of animal, though actually they are closer to cats, genealogically speaking.
Throughout the park are various food and drink stands, featuring ice cream and decent coffee, and at its center is a restaurant with simple, family-type fare – burgers, kebabs and so on. You are perfectly welcome to bring your own food and drink.
The park is appropriate for the disabled: you can rent an electric vehicle to tour the zoo at the car park, by the entrance to the zoo. Also note that there are plenty of restrooms, all of which have cold water drinking taps.
The zoo also has a playground for young'uns who need a break from all the running around, and an amphitheater which often features acts also geared towards the younger set – in Hebrew.
Done with the zoo, you return to your car and yes, drive again through the safari park - but a different area, that also has African animals everywhere. And finally you will find the hippos, which by the way have been breeding, and baby hippos are a charming thing. The hippos decamped at some stage from their pool at the start of the safari drive to another pool towards the end. Now you know.
Having passed the hippo pool you have a choice: to drive through the lions' enclosure, or to bypass it and leave the park more directly, and quickly.
The safari houses a pride of lions in a fenced area. It is constantly monitored by park personnel, to make sure the lions don't hurt their fangs on unwary tourists who do something silly like leave their cars inside the lions' enclosure.
Cars line up outside the lions' enclosure and are let in a few at a time. You can drive through and observe the lions as they romp, climb, play or more likely, sleep. Then you line up, still in your car, to be let out.
Hours in July:
Sunday -Thursday 9 A.M.-5 P.M. (ticket office closes – the park itself closes at 7 P.M.)
Friday: 9 A.M. -2 P.M. (ticket office closes – the park itself closes at 5 P.M.)
Shabbat and holidays: 9 A.M. -5 P.M. (ticket office closes – the park itself closes at 7 P.M.)
Cost: The base price is NIS 61 per ticket. Certain credit cards may grant a discount.