A zoo at the zoo?

Due to space constraints, the zoo claims it cannot increase its camp enrollment.

elephants 298.88 (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
elephants 298.88
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
On Sunday, May 13, chaos reigned at the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, but it had nothing to do with the animals. With hundreds of parents trying to register their children for the zoo's summer day camp, the parking lot swelled with people, jumping in true animal spirit to stake out their territory, and secure a spot for their offspring. After a slew of technical problems with camp registration in previous years, the zoo administration concluded that this year, a specific date and time would be selected for parents to enroll their children, on a first come first served basis. Despite this forethought, those who arrived at the allotted date and time, 9 a.m. last Sunday, immediately saw that the opportunity to register had long since passed. Liora Grossman, who came early at a friend's suggestion to register her nine-year-old twin daughters for their first summer at camp, says that she was already the 49th person in line at only 8 a.m. "It was very, very crowded," Grossman recalls. While she succeeded in registering her children, hundreds of others did not. "I know about people who came at 8:30 and were told that there were no more spots. They were turned away. It was entirely booked." "People were waiting outside from 6 a.m. onward," confirms Sigalit Dvir, marketing and public relations manager at the zoo. "This was something that we could not prevent. At 9 a.m. we opened the gates, and within two hours, the registration was over." While Grossman describes the situation as hectic, she acknowledges that the zoo's reasons for implementing this enrollment procedure are understandable. "What they did was quite unusual," she concedes, "but it's their right to do it. There is a high demand for the camp. It has a very good reputation, and they don't have a lot of spots, so they set the rules, and we have to follow them." Dvir explains that there are often over 600 people vying for the 150 spots at the camp. Despite its high price tag, about NIS 1,920 for a full-time three-week session, the Biblical Zoo camp is among the most sought-after in the city. Accepting children ages six through 12, the program introduces campers to zoo keepers and different types of animals, teaching respect and appreciation for the creatures and their habitats. Because the camp is based entirely inside the zoo, requiring room for petting corners and adequate air-conditioning on sweltering summer days, requests to increase the number of spots available for campers have not been met. "We have decided to only use the space that we have," Dvir continues, "even though we know that many more people would like to register their kids. [Because of space constraints], we also end up staying with families who have been with us before," she admits. As a result, new campers are frequently accepted because of established family connections. With last week's registration fiasco, though, it was a different practice that Grossman found to be unfair. According to her, the zoo administration "did not tell people, who called about enrolling, that they were going to be giving out gate numbers to parents who arrived early. To get a good number, you really had to be there at 7 a.m.," she says. The Jerusalem Post received an additional complaint by phone call from a parent who was not notified that priority numbers would be distributed before 9 a.m. She arrived to find enrollment essentially full. "We really did our best to give everybody an equal chance," Dvir maintains. "We're still learning and thinking of how to handle this better next year. It's not easy when you have to fill 150 places, and you have hundreds of people interested. There is no right way. We can understand why parents are angry and frustrated, but the fact is that we are dealing with this in what we think is the best way possible."