Jobs 101: Wildlife rescue officer

Spending 30-hour shifts in an animal rescue van is second nature for him.

Amanda Wong

Published: 20 September 2018, 4:14 PM

With almost eight years of animal rescue experience under his belt, wildlife rescue officer Kalai Vanan hardly bats an eyelid whenever he receives calls about a snake on the loose.

When Youth.SG went to visit Kalai at Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), he welcomed us cheerfully before prepping us for our rescue van adventure.

We followed Kalai and his team around Singapore as they responded to emergency calls from the public about sightings of wild animals.

Who: Kalai Vanan, 32
Occupation: Wildlife rescue officer
Studied: Bachelor of arts in product design

Tell us more about yourself!

In my free time, I do a lot of mountain biking, trekking and hiking. I also like to do craft work.

Let me tell you a funny story about my childhood – when I was five years old, I ran over a cockroach while cycling. I felt very bad for it so I dug a hole and buried it. I was that type of kid. (laughs)

How and why did you become a wildlife rescue officer?

Since I was young, I’ve had an appreciation for animals. As I grew up, my mum used to adopt stray or abandoned cats, so we’ve had pets all our lives.

I always wanted to help animals, but it never dawned on me that I wanted to do it as a career. I got the opportunity to work with ACRES during a roadshow, campaigning against the dolphins in Resorts World Sentosa. This led me to doing volunteer rescue work for ACRES and eventually, I stayed on.

Kalai and his team rushed down to rescue a snake in a muddy construction area.

Describe a typical day at work.

I do a variety of things. I do animal rescue, where we drive for hours to rescue and relocate wild animals, and animal care work at the rescue centre in ACRES.

Sometimes, we receive wild animals that are either sick or injured, so if the animal’s condition is too severe, we will bring it to the zoo to get the help they need.

I also liaise with government agencies to discuss problems such as culling of animals.

What are some of the challenges you face as a wildlife rescue officer?

Whenever I have to do night shifts! It can be more tiring than day shifts because I would be tired from the events in the day and have to continue to drive for long hours at a time.

Every time I’m doing animal rescue work, 30-hour shifts are very common due to our lack of manpower.

“If I come to work in the morning today, I’ll leave tomorrow evening,” said Kalai. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KASSANDRA TAN

Handling people is another challenge at times. Whenever my team and I go down to a location where there are sightings of animals, we try giving tips and possible reasons for the sightings.

However, there are times when people do not want to listen to our advice as they just want the animal to be caught. People always want the quickest solution to the problem, but it may not be the best solution.

We are trying to raise more awareness about this issue and to ask people to coexist together with these animals.

Kalai has handled all types of wildlife animals, such as crocodiles, dolphins and otters.

What are some of the memorable experiences you had as a wildlife rescue officer?

Sometimes it’s about the simplest things, such as changing a person’s mindset.

Once, there was a girl who was terrified of a snake in her house. When we went down, we spoke to her and showed her that there was nothing to be afraid of. A few months later, she joined us and became a rescue officer.

It’s so fulfilling because you get to change a person’s mindset, and that is our main goal.

Kalai (right) believes that they still have a long way to go in educating the public about respecting wildlife. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KASSANDRA TAN

What advice would you give to youths considering a career in animal rescue?

It’s not a glamorous career. You must have a passion for animals and think about how you can contribute and make a difference to the organisation.

Think about what skills you have acquired that can be used to achieve your goal of helping animals.

Educational requirements: Qualification are not as important as having a keen interest in animals.

Qualities needed: You must be creative, have patience and be people-oriented.

Working hours: You can expect to work 20 to 30-hour shifts for animal rescues.

Salary range: It ranges from $1,600 to $1,900 (depending on experience).

Career prospects: With your experience in animal rescues, you can explore similar lines of work that involves resolving conflicts and biodiversity.

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