Gazelle Valley Park Two Years On: A Green Lung, Diverse Nature Hub and So Much More
With the second anniversary of SPNI's Gazelle Valley Park in the books, it is thrilling and gratifying to consider just how much we have accomplished in this historic Jerusalem park in such a short amount of time.
For starters, there are now 24 gazelles roaming the park’s expansive 61-acre grounds. This number includes eight fawns, which is a very positive sign according to SPNI's Volunteers and Community Coordinator for the JBO and Gazelle Park, Shachar Lifshitz.
“Gazelles won’t mate if they don’t feel safe and comfortable, so if the gazelles in our park are mating and having new babies, it means that they really feel at home,” he said.
Dov Tragatsch, a senior volunteer, is also excited about the progress he has seen at the park over the last two years. Along with nine other retirees, Tragatsch is enrolled in a course that includes weekly lectures about nature and empowers participants to make lasting changes in the park.
“I live on the 7th floor of an apartment building far from nature, but here I get to be outside with animals,” he noted. “This park is really an ideal place.”
Isaac Rudolph, a recent graduate from Hebrew University who majored in community social work, developed the program that was supported by Jerusalem Municipality, for retirees that Tragatsch enjoys so much. Rudolph noted that the program employs “sustainable techniques” to create stewards of the park after the program ends. These sustainable techniques include field work in the park and listening to a series of lectures on urban nature. But most importantly, the program provides seniors with an opportunity to create a social group while rallying around nature and developing a meaningful relationship with the valley.
When Gazelle Valley Park, a project of the Jerusalem Municipality that is supported by The Jerusalem Foundation and managed by SPNI, first opened its doors, tens of thousands of people came every day to see what all the buzz was about. Today, attendance can depend on a variety of factors, including the heat, the holiday schedule, and multiple seasonal issues. Over the last few months, daily attendance numbers have ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand. However, during the Passover and Sukkot holidays, the daily visitor numbers are always in the tens of thousands, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
During a recent visit, it was clear that the hot summer weather was not keeping people away. Visitors of all ages were enjoying the wading pool/watering hole while looking around for gazelles. A religious man in a long black coat sat at the water’s edge as his young children splashed each other with glee. Lifshitz explains that this scene is typical, as the park is truly a microcosm of Jerusalem.
“All types of people come to visit the park – from secular to Ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and Jews, and tourists from around the world,” he said. “It is really a diverse crowd.”
Lifshitz also explained that, as intended, the park serves as a green lung for Jerusalem and promotes urban biodiversity.
“For every car on the road, 13 trees are required to counterbalance the CO2 produced. Sites like Gazelle Valley Park are so important because the plant life prevents flooding, releases oxygen into the air, and cools down cities,” he explained. Moreover, surrounding neighborhoods, such as Givat Mordechai, have experienced a spike in property values as a result of their close proximity to the urban nature site.
Though SPNI is very proud of its ability to keep the 24 gazelles who live within Gazelle Valley Park safe and secure, the organization’s focus extends far beyond any single nature site. As such, a new initiative launched last month intends to track and safeguard gazelles across the country.
The interactive web-based map allows experts, civilians and tourist alike to document wild gazelle sightings. This data will be used to monitor the remaining gazelle population, estimated to be somewhere between 5,000 - 6,000, down from 10,000 only 30 years ago. While SPNI receives the data instantly, there is a two-week delay until the public report is updated, a precaution put in place to prevent poachers from using the information to hunt the gazelle. The current report can be viewed here: http://mapateva.org.il/Apps/Gazelles/DIgitalMap/obs.html
With two years of strong growth behind us, SPNI and the Jerusalem Municipality have many new initiatives planned for the Gazelle Valley Park, including a small bird observatory, a gazelle museum, and a showroom with classrooms. SPNI is so gratified by the public’s response to the park, and we will continue to develop this unique urban nature space so that residents and tourists can reap its benefits year after year.
Written by Ari Jigarjian, a native of Bergenfield, NJ, and Josh Brandt a native of Los Angeles CA, who served as a Marketing and Communications interns at SPNI during the summer of 2017
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