Beyond A levels

Teen scales new heights caring for reptiles at the zoo

Ms Kelsie Tan got a job at the zoo after she finished her exams at Raffles Institution last year.
Ms Kelsie Tan got a job at the zoo after she finished her exams at Raffles Institution last year.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Snakes are beautiful, says 18-year-old Kelsie Tan, and there is no reason to doubt her.

After all, she works as a part-time reptile junior keeper at the Singapore Zoo, where she cares for animals such as giant tortoises.

She had just finished her A-level examinations at Raffles Institution (RI) late last year when she learnt of the job opening through a fellow member of the Herpetological Society of Singapore (HSS).

This was an interest group she joined in her first year of junior college, after getting to know about it through well-known nature guide Subaraj Rajathurai, whom she met in Secondary 3 when she went on a study trip he led.

"One of my fellow HSS members received notice from the zoo that their reptile section was hiring part-time keepers," said Ms Tan. She went for an interview before securing the job.

When asked what she thought the zoo looks for in young first-time keepers, Ms Tan said a passion for animals and their well-being is key. "It is quite hard for someone of my age to actually come in with much background knowledge, as not everyone can get exposure to wildlife at such an early age," she said.

"They are just looking for someone who is eager to learn."

However, her involvement in wildlife and conservation extends beyond reptiles.

She aspires to study environmental engineering or environmental studies at the National University of Singapore.

As a junior college student, Ms Tan was part of RI's Ecological Literacy Programme, an enrichment initiative for nature lovers.

Advised by researchers specialising in civet cats, she wrote a children's book to debunk misconceptions about the critters with her friends in the programme.

Mr Tan Si Jie, her teacher-mentor in the programme, praised her for her tendency to lead her peers during group activities.

"I think it is her natural character to be passionate about the environment," noted Mr Tan, who was also her teacher-in-charge in the outdoor adventure club.

He said she was always asking questions, especially during nature walks and field activities.

Told that her choice of job was an unusual one, Ms Tan said one needs to find the courage to follow one's passions.

"Think more inwardly rather than outwardly, listen to yourself."

Tay Hong Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Teen scales new heights caring for reptiles at the zoo'. Print Edition | Subscribe