It's bad enough to start your day crappily with 378 unread emails, 26 Zoom invites, and 18 incomplete reports and presentations due the next day. But having to deal with actual crap is not something for the fainthearted — although that's arguable; sometimes, we'd rather clear faeces than be stuck in a toxic work situation, thank you very much.
Okay, stay with us, there's a reason why we're talking s*** — and a fascinating one too! According to Gao Hui, senior keeper of herbivores at the Night Safari, the two young male Indian Rhinos in his charge consume almost 100kg of food in a day — and defecate just as much, if not more!
Not that Gao is complaining. In fact, the 32-year-old, who was first enthralled by the Singapore Zoo during a camp there at the age of 10, offers up this nugget of information happily, along with other interesting facts (some, again, poop-related) about Indian Rhinos:
Rhinos do not have sweat glands and cannot perspire.
"Thus, they like to go into mud wallows to cool down. The 'armor plating' on the Indian rhino’s body actually helps them to regulate their body temperature. When the rhinos leave their wallow, the mud gets trapped in the folds and cracks of their skin which helps to prolong the cooling effect — like their own internal air-condition!"
Rhino faeces is a form of communication.
"Many are not aware that rhino faeces releases chemicals that offer up information about their gender, age, and whether the rhino is in heat. It functions like a social media profile!"
Indian Rhinos have scent glands on the bottoms of their feet, which release their scent while they walk.
"This is one of the ways that they mark their territories. They will sometimes use their back legs to kick their faeces, causing it to stick onto their legs. This helps add to their distinctive scent on the path they are walking on."
Gao Hui, who graduated with a diploma in IT from Temasek Polytechnic, joined the Night Safari in 2013 right after serving NS where he was a signal sergeant at HQ BMTC (Basic Military Training Centre).
"I was lucky enough to have the support of my family in choosing my career," he says. "In the blink of an eye, this year marks my 10th year at Night Safari!"
The keeper will be helming a new Indian Rhino feeding experience at the Night Safari, which, for the first time, will allow guests to offer five-year-old Newari his favourite treats of carrots and apples.
"We have been training Newari since March 2021 to get him ready for public feeding sessions. While he was very shy at first and used to avoid coming close to people, he now confidently takes food from guests' hands.
"It helps that he is more food-motivated than his (eight-year-old half-brother Thulie)!" says Gao, who reveals that three out of the five rhino species (black, Javan and Sumatran) are critically endangered, and that Indian rhinos are categorised as "vulnerable", according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.
"This means that they are considered to be threatened with global extinction. Their numbers are shockingly low due to excessive poaching for their horns, with only an estimated 3,700 Indian rhinos left in the whole world," he adds.
The most rewarding part of the job, Gao says, is the bond he builds with the animals and the opportunity to protect and care for them, and ultimately gaining their trust, which makes working with them easier, especially when it comes to more delicate things like health checks.
"Through months of conditioning, and the trust both Thulie and Newari have in us, they now comfortably — and voluntarily — allow us to draw blood from their feet, if needed," says Gao. "That said, they are still wild by nature, and that’s why we still work with protective barriers between us for both our safety and theirs."
Nevertheless, the job as a keeper is not without its challenges. Understanding their needs is one of the greatest obstacles.
"Wild animals instinctively hide their illnesses or injuries to avoid being predated on. This is the same with the wildlife we care for. Since they are unable to speak, keepers have to know if the animals are sick through close observation, for example, deer having droopy ears or tapirs having dull eyes," says Gao.
Interested in getting up-close with these magnificent creatures? Gao shares a few pointers before your visit:
- Admire and respect the animal.
- Pat the rhino under animal care staff supervision.
- Listen to the keepers on site.
- Taunt the animal.
- Make excessive noise and touch the animal excessively.
- Use a flash when taking photos; Night Safari's animals are sensitive to bright lights, and this can hurt them
Book your slot now. Feeding sessions are limited. Book in advance here.
You can also join the feeding sessions if you sign up for Night Safari's exclusive behind-the-scenes tour programme, Safari Adventure Tour.
This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.