“My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag” (Song of Solomon, 2:9)
The Gazelle Valley is the first urban nature park in Israel. It’s a short walk from my home in the Katamonim neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem. For over a year now I have been volunteering at the park. It’s my second home, a place that lifts my spirits, where I feel at peace with the world.
The 61-acre nature reserve is just down the road from the Botanical Gardens at Givat Ram, nestled between the busy Pat Junction, the Begin Highway and the neighborhood of Givat Mordechai. It is a great place to view mountain gazelles in their natural habitat and commune with nature. Around 80 members of this endangered species are living in the park, roaming freely throughout the grounds.
The mountain gazelle is the more prevalent of Israel’s two gazelle species. They live in herds within defined territories. Formerly common in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, it is now only found in central and northern Israel. These delicate creatures are mentioned frequently in Jewish sources as a symbol of power, speed and beauty.
Due to increased urban development and construction, the number of mountain gazelles dwindled from a few hundred in the 1940s to a mere handful that remained in the valley by the end of the 1990s. Hemmed in on all sides, many were attacked by predators or killed on the newly built roads.
A protracted grassroots battle by neighborhood activists, together with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, saved the area from local property developers. The Jerusalem City Council and the Jerusalem Foundation put their weight behind the project, which culminated in the grand opening of the Gazelle Valley Urban Nature Park in March 2015.
Before it could be opened to the public, a perimeter fence was constructed to keep the gazelles from falling prey to wild dogs and jackals. Part of the valley inside the fence was developed with trails, observation platforms, picnic areas and a visitors’ center. A larger natural core was roped off exclusively for the gazelles to wander freely, but protected, in the abundant undergrowth. Rainwater runoff fills the ponds and irrigates the valley’s trees and plants, providing a “nature-based solution” to urban flooding.
No one could have predicted the success of the park. Since its opening, the number of gazelles has risen from three to over 80 – a sure sign that they are happy in their home. This year, for the first time, 18 gazelles were successfully relocated to the Golan Heights and Ramat Hanadiv on the Carmel.
In addition to gazelles, the park is home to dozens of species of birds, reptiles, insects and native plants, creating a functioning urban ecosystem that attracts a cross section of Jerusalemites and visitors from around the country. Bird watchers and photographers can be seen during the early hours together with joggers and others, like me, who just want to enjoy the peaceful, natural surroundings.
The site is run by a professional staff and volunteers who help maintain the park, advise visitors and offer educational programs for school groups. It is open everyday from 6:30 a.m. until sunset. There is no entrance fee. New volunteers are always welcome. Contact: Amanda Lind, Operations and Community Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is a tour guide living in Jerusalem.