The hands behind the Night Safari

Zoo keeper Shafiq Shamuri, 26, gives an elephant an oral cavity check before the the Night Safari opens its doors.

Behind the scenes at the daily wonder that is the Night Safari, an army of workers ensures that the animals give visitors the best show.

The general behind the operation is curator Desmond Ling, who is like a ninja when it comes to going around the park undercover in a buggy.

He gave the The New Paper a ride through the dark roads last month to shed light on how they keep the show going.

Mr Ling, who has been at the job for 11 years, oversees the zoology operations and works with the heads of different sections.

On night shifts, he drives around and makes sure the animals are looking good. If they are not, he calls the section heads to help change the animals' behaviour.

He also makes sure everything is spick and span for the visitors, who number about 1.1 million every year. The Night Safari opened in 1994 and now has more than 2,500 animals of over 130 species.

It is 9ha larger than the Singapore Zoo, which is 35ha.

We drove around the trail in the darkness, hiding in the shadows whenever the buzz of a tram lingered in front.


The visitors saw the active and beautiful creatures arching and stretching like the living exhibitions that they are.

We saw the invisible hands that made these animals stay perked up.

We watched as the keepers Zulaikha Omar and Faizal Aziz fed the lions in between crowd intervals, careful to make their six or more nightly rounds irregular so that the animals do not begin to anticipate their snacks and change their behaviour.

And then we headed for where the Nile Hippos were. As they were being fed, the hippos had their mouths wide open, showcasing their teeth. These hippos are among the most dangerous animals in the safari - one bite and the handler can be cut in two.

There were also enchanting moments as the safari was closing for the night.

Some of the animals do not stay in their show enclosures, and head for home. Three female elephants, Tun, Sri Nandong and Jamilah, were coaxed back to their barns, with their keepers directing them gently but firmly in Sinhalese.

It is not every day you see elephants holding one another's tails with their trunks walking into the darkness.

For Gomati, the Indian rhinoceros, there was a hydraulic cage that connected the show enclosure to its living area so that the handlers did not face any danger as they herded the animal back.

The zoology department has only 68 staff members, and that night there were only 14 manning the operations.

What we took away from the renowned organisation is that all you need is a small team and a lot of hard work and love to keep things going, and going well at that.

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