March 08

A Zoo in Palestine

The rain and wind has stopped and it is spring again in Palestine, and I feel good. For me, it is not really traveling unless I can feel the sun warm my face. Perhaps this is a Canadian thing.

I traveled to Qalqilya the other day, a city in the northern West Bank. Qalqilya is known for two things: it is completely encircled by the Wall, and it is the home to Palestine’s only zoo.

Sometimes the metaphors are too easy that one feels lazy even making them.

I went to the zoo on a Thursday afternoon. It is a cheerful place. The benches and railings are painted in bright colours. A new ‘safe’ playground donated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stands in the middle of the grounds. There were only a few families at the zoo that afternoon. Women in hejab led packs of excited children past the cages and to and from the ice cream vendors. After spending the last few weeks witnessing the effects of the Wall on the Palestinian people, and hearing their despairing stories, it was refreshing to be somewhere a little more lighthearted.

The Qalqilya zoo has not embraced the idea of ‘habitat enclosures,’ though I doubt the place could secure the sort of funding necessary for this sort of thing. Considering the depressed Palestinian economy – hobbled by local corruption, Israeli occupation and global recession – it is a miracle that this place exists at all. One can easily forgive some of the cramped cages, and the fact that the exotic specimens share the space with some rather banal creatures. In addition to a pair of sleeping leopards, a pacing bear, red-assed baboons, and – the zoo’s star – a feces-flinging hippo, there was a cage with a guinea pig in it. And a hutch full of rabbits. My favourite, though, was the chicken cage. The same birds could be found in identical coops down the street at the market. Those hens, however, are for eating.