Before 10am video series: Spending time with the elephants

Mr Saravanan Elangkovan, assistant director of zoology at the Singapore Zoo, first started out as an elephant keeper. While he now oversees the zoo, he still makes the time to check in on the elephants as he starts work at sunrise.
Mr Saravanan Elangkovan started work at the Singapore Zoo two decades ago as an elephant keeper. Now, as the zoo's assistant director of zoology, he makes sure everything is in order before it opens at 8.30am with a quiet drive around the grounds.
Mr Saravanan Elangkovan started work at the Singapore Zoo two decades ago as an elephant keeper. Now, as the zoo's assistant director of zoology, he makes sure everything is in order before it opens at 8.30am with a quiet drive around the grounds.ST PHOTO: SAMUEL RUBY

For most people, the zoo is usually a weekend trip once every few years. But not for Mr Saravanan Elangkovan, 42.

Growing up, he spent most of his time visiting the zoo but when the opportunity arose to work as an elephant keeper, he jumped at it.

That was about two decades ago.

Now, as the Singapore Zoo's assistant director of zoology, he makes sure everything is in order before it opens at 8.30am. His day starts at 7.30am with a quiet drive around the grounds, covering both the zoo and the Night Safari.

"At night, we don't know what could have happened. A tree could have fallen," he said.

During his morning inspection, he will stop at the elephant enclosures. Mr Saravanan can still recognise all the elephants, calling them by name and describing their personalities.

He spends the rest of the day in meetings.

Mr Saravanan Elangkovan started work at the Singapore Zoo two decades ago as an elephant keeper. Now, as the zoo's assistant director of zoology, he makes sure everything is in order before it opens at 8.30am with a quiet drive around the grounds.
Mr Saravanan Elangkovan started work at the Singapore Zoo two decades ago as an elephant keeper. Now, as the zoo's assistant director of zoology, he makes sure everything is in order before it opens at 8.30am with a quiet drive around the grounds. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL RUBY

Mr Saravanan is one of five Singaporeans featured in a new video miniseries, Before 10am. The five-parter zooms in on people who start work before or at sunrise.

The series also features an air stewardess, a fishmonger, a manager at the National Orchid Garden and a production manager at a newspaper printing facility.

In the early days of his career, Mr Saravanan's relatives were less than enthusiastic about his work, dismissing it as nothing more than cleaning up the mess made by the animals and feeding them.

He also had to overcome his initial fear of working with the elephants.

The father of three recalled: "Initially, it was kind of scary. On my first day of work, I was worried about what I had got myself into. (The elephants) are so big."

But his love for the zoo has now come full circle with his children.

Mr Saravanan said that if given a choice, "they would want to go to school at the zoo".

He added: "You know when people say you are married to your job, it's like that for me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2018, with the headline 'Before 10am, and he's already hard at work at zoo'. Print Edition | Subscribe