Sarah Chin: A zookeeper’s tale of turning passion into action
MANILA, Philippines – To say that Sarah Chin loves animals is an understatement.
As a young girl, she preferred to spend recess playing with the class rabbits at kindergarten than with her schoolmates at the playground.
Instead of a cute puppy or a kitten, she once asked her mother if she could keep a pet snake at home because for her, reptiles are friends, not foes.
While other kids would aspire to become doctors, lawyers, and astronauts, she had wanted to become a veterinarian, a marine biologist, and even a pet shop owner.
And at a young age, she had made it a personal mission to rescue the different bugs and insects that had somehow found their way into their home.
Sarah, simply, has always been passionate about caring for animals.
This passion, which she has cultivated for many, many years, led her to pursue Zoology in college and become a zookeeper right in her motherland, Singapore.
Fulfilling a dream
“I wanted to be in a job where I could both work with and make a difference to the lives of animals. Having thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering at the Singapore Zoo during the holidays [during my university years], I felt the calling to become a zookeeper upon graduation,” Sarah said.
As a zookeeper, Sarah considers working hands-on with animals “the best part of the job!"
“It feels good to have [the animals under your care] recognize you and respond to your voice even when you are not in uniform. It makes me feel really special!” she added.
But not only does she do field work to gain hands-on experience with the animals, she also performs research on advancements in the zoological field and comes up with new projects to undertake.
“The best thing about it is that I am given the opportunity to make suggestions and come up with ideas that can directly impact the welfare and well-being of our zoological collection. Seeing the animals happy and healthy makes all the effort worthwhile,” she said.
Sarah’s job might seem fun and easygoing on the surface, but it still has challenges of its own. For one, Sarah said it still isn’t considered a reputable job in Asia.
In the local front, she observed further, "Although Singapore Zoo is considered one of the top zoos in the world, many locals still have the impression that zookeeping is laborious and ‘dirty work.’"
However, Sarah also noticed and is encouraged by her fellow Singaporeans’ changing mindset on zookeeping as well as on nature and conservation.
“The locals are becoming more and more interested and concerned about issues pertaining to conservation. I feel that the work we do here at Wildlife Reserves Singapore definitely plays a pivotal role in educating the public about wildlife issues both in Asia as well as worldwide,” she said.
It goes without saying, then, that zookeepers play an important role in bridging the gap between the animals and zoo keeping in general, and the people.
“The zookeepers are the ones who play a direct role in taking care of the zoo's extensive animal collection. By maintaining happy and healthy animals, the tourists will then be able to fully enjoy and appreciate the various wildlife species displayed in our parks.
“As keepers, we are also ever-ready to answer any questions from guests regarding our animals. I believe the role that we play in educating the public is a crucial one. Knowledge is the first step towards becoming more aware of the extinction crisis that the world is facing today. The more people are concerned, the more hope we have for the animals!”
Chasing passion in Singapore
Even though Sarah once considered working abroad, the pull to serve at home was just too strong. Working in Singapore is something that she truly enjoys, citing “unparalleled” safety and security as the reasons that convinced her to stay.
Among Sarah’s fondest memories as a young girl are her visits to the Singapore Zoo. For her, these trips won’t even be possible if not for the Singaporean forefathers’ foresight “…to create a world-class zoological institution that eventually expanded to become the Wildlife Reserves Singapore of today.”
Singapore Zoo is known for its “open concept” rainforest environment, where animals live in large habitats that simulate their natural environments.
Visitors also have the chance to interact with the animals through various educational and recreational programs the zoo offers including day and night camps, guided tours, workshops; and even an opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal with an orangutan, the zoo’s most iconic animal.
This intimate set-up allows visitors from all over the world to be inspired by nature and wildlife.
It’s at the Singapore Zoo that Sarah had witnessed the utmost dedication shown by the staff firsthand to ensure that the zoo is a safe and enjoyable place for both the animals and the people who visit it.
“When I was volunteering at the zoo during my university days, I was inspired by the passion that the zoo keeping staff had in carrying out their work. Even simple tasks like food preparation or sweeping the exhibit were done with a large amount of pride.
“Also, the Singapore Zoo has always prided itself on being an open concept park [that] allows guests to have a more personal experience with the animals. This was such a big change from the other zoos that I had seen previously, and I was heartened that the zoo also places emphasis on ensuring an amazing experience for tourists.
“Everyone seemed so happy to have the privilege to work with the animals directly – I definitely wanted to be a part of that!” she related.
Following one’s dream
Indeed, Sarah is the personification of the oft-quoted adage, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
To young people who share the same passion and dream as hers, she said, “Definitely follow your dreams!”
And where better to start chasing dreams and pursuing passion than in Singapore?
“Despite its small size, Singapore actually has amazing biodiversity. Many people do not notice this as they are too busy going about their daily lives,” said Sarah.
“I would advise all guests to keep their eyes open and to carefully observe their surroundings. No matter where you are on the island, there is a wealth of animal and bird life to discover!” – Rappler.com
In this series:
Singapore is beyond a tourist destination – it’s a place where passion is made possible every day. For Filipino Explorers who are passionate about wildlife and animals, much how like Sarah Chin is, the Singapore Zoo offers programs that can inspire and enrich their knowledge such as the Wild Discoverer Tour. For more details, please click this link.