Stefan’s love for animals started when he was in pre-school. He was always attracted to the animal section in encyclopedias. Whenever he visited the zoo, he would spend long periods of time at each exhibit looking for the animals or reading the facts from the interpretive.
Mesmerised as a young child, Stefan responded to God’s call despite graduating with an unrelated degree. Below, he shares with us the joys and challenges of being a zookeeper.
How did it all start?
I remember going on school excursions to the zoo and always found the zookeepers really cool. They got to look after big animals and I have always wanted to be a part of it.
When I saw Inuka’s keepers feeding him and his mother Sheba, my desire to be a zookeeper grew a lot stronger. During my primary school days, we went on a school excursion and got to be bird keepers for a whole day. I remember being attached to the penguin section and I had the chance to enter the exhibit to feed and interact with them. This experience gave me a taste of a keeper’s life that I wanted to have a share of.
I volunteered at the zoo for three months after I graduated from polytechnic in 2009. During this time, I got to work with animals like white rhinoceros, zebras, giraffes, kangaroos and even reptiles. I also made it a point to visit the zoo whenever I came back to visit my loved ones in Singapore while I was studying overseas during my college days. Each trip to the zoo never failed to excite me.
For me, I feel that this call to work in the zoo is truly from God. I had a glimpse of that call as a child. Even when He took me on a different path and I studied something completely different, the call to care for the animals always resonated with me.
When I started working at the Singapore Zoo, I had the opportunity to look after big carnivores including our beloved polar bear Inuka, which I have always longed to care for since I was a little boy. That, to me, was truly a sign of God’s affirmation to pursue my passion as a zookeeper.
Stefan hosting a polar bear keeper’s interaction, sharing with guests about Inuka and the care that goes into looking after him.
What motivates me is knowing that the hard work and effort put in by the team goes a long way for the animals’ welfare
What are some of the challenges that you face and how do you overcome them?
My working hours are based on a roster, which are longer than the normal 9am to 5pm office hours. This also means that I have to work on weekends and public holidays. I would usually start work at 8am and would only leave at 8pm at times, as I have to complete reports and other paperwork.
Another challenge that I face is having to forgo time with my Church community on Saturdays. There have also been moments where I have had to miss weekend mass and time with my family and close friends.
Despite these sacrifices, what motivates me is knowing that the hard work and effort put in by the team goes a long way for the animals’ welfare. My goal is to provide world-class animal care. It heartens me to see the animals comfortable and not showing signs of distress.
Knowing that I can make a difference by interacting, educating and inspiring guests about these animals and the plight they are facing also encourages me to press on in moments of tiredness.
How has your faith empowered you in your work?
Journeying with my Church community has definitely had an impact on my work, especially in my relationships with fellow colleagues. It has taught me to be more open and vulnerable with my colleagues, which has fostered a deeper understanding of one another amongst us.
Instead of reacting rashly in the face of challenges, I have also learnt to take a step back and to first process my thoughts. My faith has also taught me to show compassion and empathy towards my colleagues and how they feel, instead of focusing solely on myself.
Because of the level of camaraderie, rapport, and confidence that we have in each other, I am assured that my colleagues will support me in challenging times.
Stefan is seen here with Astove, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise
Why do you think it is important for us to care for God’s creation?
We believe that God made all living things as written in scripture. In Genesis 1:25, we read that “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good”. In today’s world, we see the harmful effects of habitat loss, the illegal wildlife trade and the poaching of animals. An example would be tigers being hunted for their body parts, which are believed to contain medicinal value.
If we do not care and protect God’s creations, future generations will not be able to see these beautiful animals.
How can we do our part in caring for the animals?
My experience in volunteering has helped me to learn more about the individual characters of the animals and their needs. I would encourage us to participate in conservation projects and to even volunteer at the zoo. Through these, we can gain a better understanding of wildlife and discover ways in which we can protect them.
Our animal friends need us, let us protect God’s creation. Remember: When the demand for exotic wildlife products stop, the killing will too.
Stefan Ng, 30