The Galilee Blind Shrimp Conservation Program
Photograph: Zoo Archives
Photograph: Zoo Archives
Photograph: Tzafrir Rinat
One particular small underground pool fed by a mineral spring at Tabgha, near the town of Tiberias on the Northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, is home to a unique species of blind shrimp found nowhere else on the planet, not even in any other bodies of water in Israel. The Blind Shrimp (Typhlocaris Galilea) is a species of blind crustacean that was first described by scientists in 1909. Today these animals are critically endangered because of threats to their only habitat in the En-Nur pool by groundwater drilling and pumping which has led to other water sources penetrating the enclosed environment and causing changes in the composition and temperature of the water.
One of the functions of a modern zoo is to function as a genetic ark for critically endangered species - particularly where their natural environment is disappearing - to ensure that they do not become lost to us forever. When it became apparent that this pool is the world’s only habitat for these crustaceans, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority (INNPPA) approached the Zoo for help in establishing a captive breeding program to ensure the survival of the species.
Originally the pool that is home to these transparent and blind animals was one of the chambers in a Roman bath or cistern at some forgotten city. It is still completely enclosed by masonry which gives it a symmetrical, octagonal outline, but there is no visible outflow or inflow of water, which apparently seeps through the bottom at several places and decreases in volume by dehydration. It is evident, however, that the water, which now is about 4 ft. deep, was in ancient times much deeper, and that the overflow escaped by means of apertures in the wall high above the present surface. The pool is effectively divided by piles of stones into two bodies of water, each fed by a different spring resulting in differences in the water salinity, chlorinity and temperature – a truly unique ecosystem. The population of Blind Shrimps is found mainly in the warmer and more saline of the two areas – both in the pool itself and in the water-filled cavities of the subterranean tract from which the spring originates. Because of the unique make-up of the water in their native habitat, keeping and breeding these animals in captivity poses a challenge.
The invertebrate animals found in this pool are related to but different from other, similar life forms known to scientists, such as the species found in the Ayalon Cave near Ramla outside of Jerusalem.