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are you ready to help?
By SayLin Ong
It is natural to have that desire to be involved in a particular field of interest. This is especially so for Biology students(with 3 months to spare) and animal lovers. I often hear of people wanting to help at a shelter, zoo or conservation centre. “Because it will be fun, its cool and its something different.” are the usual answers many people give. Be it as a volunteer, intern or employee, most jobs involving animals are often not what they seem to be.
Although the 4 of us here are current or ex employees at the Night Safari Singapore, I am not claiming that we are super-qualified at working with animals. We are, however, adequately exposed to husbandry work with animals and have a reasonable level of experience. We know the seriousness of husbandry work and how easily accidents can happen when we let ourselves get too comfortable. Working with animals isn’t rocket science after all, how difficult can sweeping up faeces and preparing food be? Well, spend some time trying to properly clean an animal den and you will know it takes some experience to know what to look out for, and work effectively.
Animals will have to eat before they look happy and contented in front of everyone. Food preparation varies for different animals. Large carnivores are especially tedious, requiring the cutting up of large amounts of meat. Meat, quite naturally, comes along with huge amounts of blood. Working with snakes and raptors will also require preparing rats as food. At BSBCC, as least in Phase 1, the bears eat a main staple of porridge with dog pellets and fruits. When the bears are finally comfortable in the outside enclosures, food preparation will likely become more challenging with large amounts of fruit to prepare them for life in the wild.
And once they’ve had their fill…
The tropical rainforest is highly dependent on its decomposers to keep the nutrient cycle going. The forest floors and undergrowths are hardly sterile or clean by our human standards. Leaf litter and decomposing wood are part and parcel of the forest environment. It is unfair to expect their dens to look as “hygienic” as that of an animal shelter housing domestic dogs and cats.
Animals also hardly understand the concept of a clean water source…
And above all, safety first. While we’re busy scrubbing and washing, we must always be mindful of the bears in the adjacent dens. Sometimes they tend to reach out to grab our brushes and dust pans out of curiosity.
So how can you prepare yourself for such volunteering opportunities in the future? Working at the zoo for such short periods is definitely not practical, and they usually do not hire short-termed employees. the closest thing I can think of is working at an animal shelter. Most importantly, I feel it is important to prepare yourself mentally. Be open-minded about things and be ready to help in any way possible. Expect to work hard and not be afraid of getting dirty, or the ‘occasional’ insect bites. Arm yourself with more than a camera and the intention to hug an animal.