Studying the Bible—In the Zoo!
SOME time ago we chose a rather unusual location for our weekly family Bible discussion—the Emmen Zoo, near our home in the Netherlands. This was for a very good reason, which will soon become clear to you.
Like many Christian families all over the world, we have a weekly Bible study. During this study we often read about animals that are used in the Bible as symbols of good and bad qualities. We wondered whether we could get to know the animals better and decided to make it a family effort. Each member of the family was assigned a specific animal and was asked to look up information on this animal in publications such as Insight on the Scriptures and the bound volumes of The Watchtower and Awake!
As we approach the gate of the Emmen Zoo, the eyes of our children, Mari-Claire, Charissa, and Pepijn, sparkle in anticipation. We are going to see the crocodiles, the bears, the zebras, the ants, and maybe even more of the animals we have read about in the Bible. But first of all, let us tell you about this unique zoo.
No Cages, No Bars
The Noorder Dierenpark, as the Emmen Zoo is called in Dutch, is a very special animal park, set up according to modern principles. Here you will find no animals in cages or behind bars. On the contrary, in Emmen everything has been done to bring the animals into an environment that resembles their natural habitat as closely as possible. “It is the visitor, rather than the animal, who is behind a fence,” says a smiling Wijbren Landman, one of the park’s biologists.
“The animals are not arranged according to species but according to their place of origin. That’s why on the vast African savanna that you see here, as many animals as possible are kept together that live together in the wild.” And yes, there we see them—the tallest animals in the world, long-necked giraffes, which can grow to a height of 19 feet [6 m]. They are together with springbok, impalas, zebras, gnu, waterbuck, and even a few rhinoceroses.
But Wijbren has still more to tell us about the Emmen savanna: “The animals have so much space here that they never feel cornered. Yet, we have also provided some escape routes. Do you see those big stones over there? In between them the springbok can take shelter so that the rhinos can’t bother them. And that hill over there enables the animals to get entirely out of each other’s range of vision. But most of the time the animals hardly notice each other’s presence. This really is not surprising, since they have shared their habitat in Africa for thousands of years.”
“Look! Zebras!” Charissa is all excited. She did some interesting research on zebras. “The stripes distort the shape and unity of the zebras’ contour so much that even sharp-eyed natives are often unaware of their presence when just 130 to 160 feet [40-50 m] away. The zebras’ keen senses of sight and smell as well as their ability to run swiftly—even more than 35 miles per hour [60 km/hr]—serve as a protection against carnivorous animals. As Psalm 104:11 notes, zebras ‘regularly quench their thirst.’ That is why they are seldom found more than five miles [8 km] from water.” Then she added: “We too must regularly quench our spiritual thirst by staying close to the congregation, studying the Bible, and attending meetings.”
We leave the African savanna behind us and walk in the direction of one of the largest predators on earth, the kodiak bear. This largest of all bears can grow to as long as ten feet [3 m] and weigh up to 1,700 pounds [780 kg]. For their enclosure here to be as natural as possible, it has been beautifully designed with streams and huge rocks. The kodiak bear is a big brother to the Syrian brown bear, which lived in Israel in Bible times. As Mari-Claire found out, bears subsist on a varied diet. They feed on leaves and roots of plants as well as on fruits, berries, nuts, eggs, insects, fish, rodents, and the like, and they have a special fondness for honey. In ancient Israel when the vegetarian elements of the bear’s diet were scarce, shepherds had to be on guard against the depredations of bears. In his youth David had to brave the attack of a bear in order to protect his father’s flock.—1 Samuel 17:34-37.
“Out Of Its Nostrils Smoke Goes Forth”
But there are more animals we definitely want to see. The other day in our Bible study, we came across “Leviathan,” the crocodile. At first, Pepijn described it as ‘a kind of fish, but then a very large one!’ As crocodiles are very sensitive to temperature variations, they are accommodated in the Africa House, where a tropical climate is maintained. Upon entering, we are struck by the heat and the humidity, which steam up our glasses. In addition to that, we have to get accustomed to the darkness. Walking across a wooden suspension bridge, we suddenly come face-to-face with a couple of huge crocodiles holding sway over the wallows on either side of the bridge. They lie there so motionless that Pepijn is prompted to say: “They are not real.”
Crocodiles are among the largest extant reptiles. Some may reach a length of 20 feet [6 m] and may weigh as much as 2,000 pounds [900 kg]. The strength of their jaws is stunning—even a relatively small crocodile weighing 100 pounds [50 kg] is able to exert a force equal to over 1,500 pounds [700 kg]. When a crocodile surfaces after a period of submersion, the rapid exhalation of air through its nostrils can produce a spray that in the glare of the morning sun may well be the ‘flash of light’ and the ‘going forth of smoke out of its nostrils’ that the book of Job describes.—Job 41:1, 18-21.
“Cautious As Serpents”
We have hardly left the crocodiles behind us when we perceive in the darkness—fortunately, behind glass panels—a number of specimens of a creature that is used in the Bible as a symbol of both desirable and undesirable qualities. We’re talking about the serpent, the first animal mentioned by name in the Bible. (Genesis 3:1) Jesus used its cautiousness as an example when admonishing his disciples regarding their conduct among wolflike opposers. (Matthew 10:16) But, of course, the serpent is usually identified with “the original serpent,” Satan the Devil, who at 2 Corinthians 11:3 is described as seductive and cunning like a serpent.—Revelation 12:9.
“Go to the Ant, . . . and Become Wise”
An unexpected sight in an animal park is the big anthill we see, which houses three colonies of leaf-cutter ants. These are the gardeners among the ants. We can see the colony behind a glass panel; this enables us to study the living habits of these little creatures. Ants interest us because they are used in the Bible as an example of diligence and instinctive wisdom.—Proverbs 6:6.
Wijbren Landman is an insect specialist. He explains: “An estimated one million times one billion ants toil on earth’s surface, meaning that for every human there are no less than 200,000 ants! Of the 15,000 types that we find scattered over all continents except the polar regions, no two look alike. They all build different kinds of houses, and they eat different kinds of food, but they are all organized in more or less the same way.
“Leaf-cutter ants cultivate edible fungi, just as humans cultivate mushrooms. As you see, this cultivating takes place underground, but the food for the fungi comes from above ground. All day, worker ants busily transport leaves to their nest. They climb up a tree or a shrub and choose a leaf. Then, using their jaws like scissors, they rapidly cut semicircular pieces out of the leaf and in procession carry these to their nest, holding them as a sort of parasol over their heads. This explains their secondary name, parasol ants. The cutting goes on so rapidly that in South and Central America, they completely strip entire shrubs or trees in a matter of hours. No wonder they are not very popular there! In the nest other workers clean the pieces of leaves carefully before they masticate them. Afterward, the resulting pulp is mixed with enzymes and amino acids that the ants excrete. Only then is the pulp ready to be used as food for the fungi, thus ensuring a constant supply for the whole colony.”
Deeply impressed by the wisdom and creativity apparent in the endless diversity of creation, we leave the ant city. It is late in the afternoon, and we must return home. But there is much more for us to see. We have not paid a visit to the owls (Isaiah 13:21), the seals (Exodus 35:23), the hippopotamuses (“Behemoth,” Job 40:15), the ostriches (Jeremiah 50:39), or the many other animals that live here that are mentioned in the Bible. Each one is worthy of study. We definitely will come back to the Emmen Zoo!—Contributed.
[Picture Credit Line on page 16]
Ostrich: Yotvatah Nature Reserve