This 23-year-old cares for animals at the Night Safari
You can catch Scarlet along the Night Safari’s Leopard Trail to learn more about the various small mammals and carnivores she cares for.
In a tiny shack shrouded by dense vegetation, 23-year-old Scarlet Mayo meticulously cuts, weighs and prepares an assortment of fruits and vegetables ranging from dragon fruits to sweet potatoes.
Scarlet is no chef, though. She is a junior zookeeper at the Night Safari caring for small mammals and carnivores.
For the past three years, the 23-year-old has educated curious guests about animals under her care such as the common palm civet, the small clawed otter and the slow loris. During her shifts, she engages visitors, prepares food, feeds and cares for the animals.
Scarlet, a UK citizen, was born and raised in Singapore and holds a Permanent Resident status. She recalls that her love for animals started as early as the age of one, when she first started going to the Singapore Zoo. Even as she was growing up, she would beg her parents to take her there every weekend.
When she returned to the UK to further her studies, she chose animal management as one of her subjects. There, she met a teacher who regaled her with tales of his experiences as a zookeeper, which inspired her to follow her passion of working with animals.
After returning to Singapore, Scarlet scoured the Internet for job opportunities which would allow her to work with animals. As luck would have it, she stumbled upon the opportunity to work at the Night Safari.
Deciding to work in Singapore was a huge step for Scarlet. Her parents are moving back to the UK in October and choosing to embark on her career in Singapore meant she will need to live alone without her family members.
What made her take this leap of faith was the knowledge that the Night Safari and Singapore Zoo are “recognised as one of the best worldwide”.
“I’ve heard a lot about the work environment and how the animals are. So I was really enthusiastic… luckily enough, a job came up working with small mammals and carnivores which was my top choice. I’m very lucky and fortunate to be working here today and I couldn’t be happier,” Scarlet shares.
According to Scarlet, zookeepers typically start the day by cleaning the exhibits, taking headcounts of the animals under their care and checking them for potential health issues. They also work closely with veterinarians and nutrition centres to prepare fresh meals that meet the animals’ daily needs.
Besides her everyday tasks, Scarlet is also in charge of inventory and enrichment for the animals in her zone.
Her responsibilities consist of coming up with an enrichment calendar every month to ensure that the animals are mentally and physically stimulated.
“When we create enrichment devices we always think about what and how we can motivate the animals,” Scarlet shares with Youthopia.
“We wrap meat or fish in grass or leaves and tie it up. Making sure it’s tight and secure encourages the animals to forage. I cut the food into smaller pieces so they’ll stay engaged for a prolonged time,” she adds.
Another form of enrichment is conditioning, which is used to familiarise animals with a new space, take their weight or move them from one place to another.
Scarlet facilitates conditioning using a device called a target stick, a stick with a ball or coloured tape at its end, to point at an area they want the animal to move to.
Once the animal touches its nose to the ball or tape, she sounds a clicker or whistle which acts as a “bridge”, indicating to the animal that they have completed the task. Scarlet then rewards the animals with positive reinforcement in the form of their favourite food.
Although conditioning and enrichment is essential in nurturing and engaging the animals, Scarlet finds that it is equally important to put their welfare first.
“It’s important that it’s voluntary when we carry out conditioning sessions … when animals start to lose concentration or do not want to cooperate we stop and listen to them and their needs,” Scarlet emphasises.
Unlike regular nine-to-five jobs, being a zookeeper at the Night Safari can sometimes mean working late into the night. Despite this, Scarlet believes it’s not that hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance as the zookeepers are scheduled for a mix of both day and night shifts.
“I like the night shift because I can see the animals active and interact with guests… but morning shifts are also good because I can meet with friends after work… my off days are very precious and I make the most of them.”
Despite some of these challenges, her love for animals and her job has kept her here for the past three years.
Whether it’s dealing with uncooperative animals, refurbishing exhibits, there are many things to keep Scarlet on her toes everyday.
She also shares that one of the most interesting things about working with the animals is that each has their own personality you learn about as you interact with them.
In her time working at the Night Safari, Scarlet has developed a soft spot for two small-toothed palm civets.
“Watching them grow up was very meaningful to me, as theirs was the first birth I experienced. Seeing them grow up into young pups and learn how to eat on their own, climb, was a very sweet and memorable moment for me,” Scarlet reminisces.
Besides this, Scarlet loves interacting with visitors. Besides answering their questions, she makes an effort to put across a message highlighting conservation. She hopes that by visiting the night safari and learning about the animals, guests can appreciate and learn to co-exist with them.
“I like to share my passion and love for animals … Through sharing my knowledge and experiences I hope that they can take away what I’ve said and share them with friends and family.”
For those interested in zookeeping or with a love for animals, Scarlet suggests that you can start by giving your time to animals through volunteer work at the Zoo or at organisations such as ACRES.
“Being a zookeeper is a job for life. You fall in love with the animals, the environment, the work experience and you don’t want to leave.”