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Animal lovers protest against zoo amid clash of narratives over animal welfare

Agriculture Ministry, Nature Authority, open probe into Hai Park in Kiryat Motzkin after social media post shows elephants apparently clinging to wall for shade

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Israelis demonstrate outside the Hai animal park in Kiryat Motzkin on July 28, 2022. (Courtesy, Campaign to Save the Animals at Hai Animal Park, Kiryat Motzkin)
Israelis demonstrate outside the Hai animal park in Kiryat Motzkin on July 28, 2022. (Courtesy, Campaign to Save the Animals at Hai Animal Park, Kiryat Motzkin)

Scores of animal lovers demonstrated on Thursday against Hai Park in the northern city of Kiryat Motzkin over what they say are unacceptable conditions in which to keep wild animals.

Claims and counterclaims about the animals’ well-being have been mounting over the past nine days since Nir David, a political activist, posted a picture on social media of two elephants apparently clinging to the wall of their enclosure to keep cool in its shade.

The post went viral, garnering 2,600 comments and 3,900 shares as of Thursday, and prompted the launch of a campaign to “save” the animals by Lauren Tobaly, a math student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who lives in Tel Aviv.

On Friday, the park’s management wrote on Facebook that the elephants had enough shade from trees, from the wall during the morning hours, and from a shade net in the center of the display.

The park invited the public to come and see for itself, allowing free entry all week, through Friday.

In response to the row, representatives of the Agriculture Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority visited the facility earlier this week. They launched an investigation and prohibited the park from accepting any new animals for the time being. They said they could not comment further until conclusions have been drawn.

A statement from the Agriculture Ministry said that several “enforcement procedures” had been conducted over recent months at the park and that several “deficiencies” had been found, not all of which had been corrected.

כשאדם פרטי מתעלל בחיות, כולם זועקים.כשעירייה פוגעת בחיות, דממת אלחוט. פילים מצטופפים בחום, ומשאבת המים מקולקלת. חי פארק מוצקין 19.07.2022 10:42עולם עצוב, מאוד.Nir David

Posted by ‎סטטוסים מצייצים‎ on Thursday, July 21, 2022

On Tuesday, Yesh Atid MK Yasmin Sacks-Friedman, an animal rights activist, visited the park, reporting afterward that she had found some of the enclosures to be properly maintained while others were far below acceptable standards.

She said that the lack of shade for the elephants, giraffes, monkeys and other animals was “the most serious defect.”

In addition, she wrote that the water in the crocodile pool was full of plastic, corks and empty bottles, and that visitors were feeding the animals without supervision in a way that could cause them harm (a giraffe died at the park in 2012 after eating the packaging of food provided by visitors) and that the pen for the sheep and goats was “stale and dirty.”

As part of its first campaign, the Israel branch of the Jane Goodall Institute has also become involved. The Institute was formally launched earlier this month, but co-director Dr. Itai Roffman, an evolutionary anthropologist,  told the Times of Israel that he had been receiving information about the Kiryat Motzkin park for several months and had already sent a complaint to IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Roffman, who, like Goodall, has spent years studying bonobo apes, said that Yus, an orangutan who died several years ago at the park from meningitis, could have been vaccinated against the infection and that her death indicated poor sanitary conditions in the enclosure. The remaining orangutans were subsequently moved to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem.

He added that one of JGI Israel’s aims was to send endangered species from zoos to ecological sanctuaries and then release them into the wild in reintroduction programs. Orangutans are critically endangered.

Roffman, who has not visited the Kiryat Motzkin facility but has seen photographs and video clips, criticized the lack of appropriate vegetation in the enclosures and access to nature.

לאחר חשיפת mako: הטיגריסית בחי פארק קריית מוצקין מתה היום > bit.ly/3rtIcRhצילום: ליזי אבו, facebook

Posted by mako on Sunday, April 17, 2022

The zoo hit the headlines earlier this year when Channel 12 news published a picture of an emaciated female tiger. This prompted the Agriculture Ministry to send a vet, who anesthetized the animal to carry out a medical check. The tiger, named Sarah, never woke up. According to the Agriculture Ministry, postmortem results were not conclusive about the cause of death and were sent for a second opinion.

A spokesman for the Kiryat Motzkin Municipality, speaking on behalf of the park and at its request — the park is an independent not-for-profit organization — said the facility operated according to the law and with full transparency.

A Nubian ibex, handicapped from birth at the Hai animal park in Kiryat Motzkin. (Courtesy Ittai Roffman)

He added that the “violent” character of the verbal attacks on the park indicated opposition to zoos in principle, with interested parties riding the wave of “a distorted saga” born of “politics and demagoguery.”

An ibex whose picture has been circulating on social media as an example of maltreatment was born with handicapped front legs, the spokesman said.

Sarah the tiger was nineteen and a half and died of old age, he contended, while another female tiger that has an apparently crooked back, whose picture has also been circulating, came from a smaller enclosure in the central city of Rishon Lezion in 2019, and already had a limp and medical problems at the time.

He emphasized that many young people with special needs worked at the park, gaining significantly from their contact with the animals.

Emphasizing that photographs did not tell the whole story, he provided positive testimony from Gerry Creighton, who spent 36 years as a keeper at Ireland’s Dublin Zoo before becoming an elephant care consultant with zoos in January 2021.

הודעה לציבור הרחב! עד יום שישי ה29.7 כל הציבור מוזמן! הכניסה חינם! בואו לראות במו עינכם את הטיפול המסור, ותנאי ההחזקה שמקבלות הפילות וכל שאר בעלי החיים בחי פארק קריית מוצקין.25.7 משעה 9:00-19:0026.7 משעה 9:00-17:0027.7 משעה 9:00-19:0028.7 משעה 9:00-18:00 29.7 משעה 9:00-16:00. בינתיים שמעו את דבריו מהיום ה24.7 של מומחה הפילים מספר אחד בעולם שביקר בחי פארק לפני חודש בדיוק.

Posted by ‎חי פארק קריית מוצקין‎ on Sunday, July 24, 2022

However, according to the Irish press, Dublin Zoo is also to undergo formal investigation for alleged animal abuse and disappearances.

He also supplied a link to an article published in a local paper (in Hebrew) on Thursday by a journalist, Aliza Barkan, who gave the park a thumbs up.

Contrary to Yasmin Sacks-Friedman’s report, Barkan, who said she spent four hours at the park, wrote, “In general, the garden was clean, the pools, including that of the crocodiles, were clean and there was a flow of fresh and clean water.”

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