From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Lawrence Teo

Would you dedicate your life to conserving the planet and the creatures that inhabit this planet? In this five-part series from our June 2022 print story ‘Call Of The Wild”, we spotlight five inspiring women who are championing wildlife conservation efforts in Singapore.

Anbarasi Boopal, 39, Co-CEO, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES)

Passion, grit, and plenty of Redbull – these were what Anbarasi Boopal had in spades when she started working as an animal caregiver with wildlife rescue and conservation non-profit, Acres, in 2007. Then 22 years old, the volunteer-turned-wildlife activist held a master’s in Environmental Management from NUS, and a master’s in Life Sciences from Bharathidasan University in India.

While Anbarasi’s academic credentials could have opened doors to better-paying positions – she did a stint at a human rights charity before joining Acres full-time – the animal lover held firm to her calling in wildlife conservation, which was sparked through the discovery of an Indian star tortoise wandering around her neighbourhood.

“While I was studying at NUS, I found an Indian star tortoise being kept illegally. I was quite sad because they are endangered back in India, and I’ve never seen one in the wild. That set me off to call Acres, and I spoke to [founder] Louis Ng, who came to pick it up. I asked if the tortoise would be returned to India, and he said no, because there was no rescue centre in Singapore. Then, we started discussing building one here,” she says.

Acres co-CEO Anbarasi Boopal with an iguana. Photo: Lawrence Teo

Together with two other members, as well as Louis – who is now the MP of Nee Soon East – and his wife, Amy Corrigan, the five-person team worked tirelessly to build Singapore’s first wildlife rescue centre in Sungei Tengah. They each survived on a stipend of $500 every month for four years. During this period, Anbarasi lived with Louis and his wife at their HDB flat as she could not afford rent.

“My mum was very worried that I had gone crazy. People go to Singapore to earn money, and you are there working for $500, cutting grass and taking care of snakes. What kind of career is that?” she recalls with a laugh. Despite the odds, the team remained steadfast in their vision and raised about $1 million through donations to build the rescue centre.

With the help of volunteers, who spent hours constructing, gardening, cleaning and setting up the compound, they finally launched the Acres Wildlife Rescue Centre (AWRC) in 2009. Today, it’s a safe and naturalistic haven for injured and illegally traded animals, complete with a veterinary clinic. Fifteen years later, Anbarasi now runs Acres as co-CEO for its advocacy arm, managing its humane education and fundraising programmes, promoting human-wildlife coexistence in Singapore, and also overseeing its animal crime investigation unit – Acres plans and conducts joint sting operations with the AVA in tackling the illegal wildlife trade.

With Diggle the rooster, a beloved fixture at Acres. Photo: Lawrence Teo

Her colleague, co-CEO Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan, takes care of Acres’ wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts. Between them, they manage 21 full-time employees and about 200 animals under their care. Anbarasi encourages those who are interested in nature and wildlife conservation to start by advocating for more sustainable changes around them.

“You don’t have to be in a charity to [make a difference]. It can even be through your own line of work. You can be working in a corporate organisation and still be a change-maker, as most companies have their own environmental initiatives. You don’t have to go and fight separately for animals or wildlife, or to sacrifice a lot to be a catalyst for change.”