Security barrier at J’lem zoo to counter ‘monkey intifada’

Reinforced glass will protect humans from rock-throwing chimpanzees; “It’s kind of embarrassing to be stoned by a chimp,” says zoo director.

monkey cage 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
monkey cage 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
With officials long worried that a serious injury, or even death, is just waiting to happen, a multimillion-shekel barrier is under construction in the capital to separate loud, unruly crowds from frequent rock-throwers.
Sound like another security hot spot? Try the chimpanzee exhibit at the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem, popularly known as the Biblical Zoo.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to be stoned by a chimp,” said zoo director Shai Doron.
“Chimps know how to throw forehand, but can’t throw overhand, like a baseball. So usually the rocks they throw have a big arc and people have time to escape.”
“The chimps throw rocks every time they’re upset when there are a lot of people,” explained Noa Danen, the head of the primate section at the zoo. “People thought it was funny, until they got a rock in the head.”
Instead of leaving the area when the primates are upset, news of chimpanzees throwing rocks usually draws even larger crowds, said Danen.
“And monkeys throw really well,” she noted.
After frequent incidents of irate chimps tossing rocks at the public, the zoo installed a net across the chimpanzee exhibit 10 years ago. While it took care of the danger of injury, it made the chimps hard to see and even harder to photograph.
A new, reinforced glass barrier is part of a NIS 2 million general overhaul of the chimpanzee exhibit, which will include more room for the chimpanzees to frolic. The plan includes filling in the moat to allow the residents to come right up to the glass and interact with their fellow primates “nose to nose,” Doron said. The glass will be specially treated so as not to shatter on impact from stones or other projectiles.
The zoo will also cover the exhibit with a deep layer of fresh soil, not the rocky Jerusalem soil, in the hopes of halting the flow of weapons into the chimps’ hands.
The two-month renovation will be completed at the end of next month, and will also feature two new bridges, one an Indiana Jones-style rope bridge. The bridges will allow visitors to see the exhibit from above one side and watch the chimps from an even closer, yet still protected, angle.
The money came from the zoo’s endowment fund and was supplemented by a grant from the Tourism Ministry, which is especially interested in keeping the chimp exhibit injury-free.
Part of the project had included a NIS 50,000 initiative to install outdoor air conditioners in the chimpanzee exhibit, until officials decided that the air conditioners would make it too cold for the African primates, Danen said.
The holidays are an especially busy time for the zoo, which is expecting upwards of 4,000 visitors a day during the intermediate days of Succot.
This is certainly higher than on an average weekend, but nothing near the 14,000 visitors who came each day during the intermediate days of Pessah.
Zoo officials were mostly amused by the sudden media interest in the “monkey intifada” playing out at the Biblical Zoo.
“It’s a nice joke, but the big idea is to create a better quality of life for the chimps and a better experience for the visitor,” said Doron. “I really believe that close interaction – with respect from both sides, both animal and human – leads to a higher awareness and deeper involvement of visitors in wildlife conservation in their personal behavior.”
“And we don’t call it a ‘separation fence,’” Danen added.
“Instead of a fence, now there will be windows.”