This month, ground was broken on Israel’s first urban nature reserve. Planned to open in phases over the next 10 years, Gazelle Valley in Jerusalem will provide a protected space for gazelles and other wildlife as well as a refuge for tourists and locals in Israel’s largest and most densely packed city.
For years, the prime real estate has been the focus of an intense political battle as developers and environmentalists fought over plans to convert the open space into apartments. In March 2012, Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled in favor of the environmentalists and, after a decade of negotiations, gave the final approval for the space to be preserved for Israel’s diverse wildlife and the public.
“Nature and open spaces are an integral part of a healthy city. They have to be available for local residents,” Naomi Tsur, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor for planning and environment, said in support of the nature reserve.
Gazelle Valley, officially known as Pri Har Valley, will provide a much needed green space in a rapidly developing city, as well as provide protection for the city’s gazelle population currently threatened by the local Begin highway and urban expansion. Under the current plans, one section of the park, approximately 12 acres, will be reserved for use exclusively by the city’s gazelles.
“People can get close—but not too close—to the gazelles,” Amir Balaban, a wildlife expert who fought hard for the reserve’s approval, said.
A second area will provide picnic space for visitors to the reserves. The remaining land, composed of natural barriers such as streams, will house a visitor’s center and provide a buffer area between the urban landscape and the park.
“In Israel, 93 percent of our population lives in cities, so the quality of the urban environment is very important,” Tsur said, adding that the new space gives the gazelle population the best chance for long-term survival free from loss of habitat and dangerous predators.