Book Review: ‘Naked Ape. Naked Boss – The Man Behind The Singapore Zoo & The World’s First Night Safari’ by Kirpal Singh

Naked Ape Naked Boss

I was at the library yesterday and this is the book which immediately caught my eye. Hello, almost-naked man on the cover? Why is this allowed in NLB? Hahaha.

I remember reading a review about it, possibly in The Straits Times, so I quickly went to borrow this book and I’m already done reading it! 😀

Because the cover photo was so arresting, I didn’t even notice that it’s not an autobiography. It’s about the man behind the zoo – Bernard Harrison – but written mainly by his friend, Kirpal Singh.

There are lots of interesting nuggets of information in this book, and it’ll make you see the Zoo and its management (hur hur) in a new light.

One of the first few notes I made while reading the book is about Bernard’s distinction between ‘love’ and ‘respect’. Ask him where his love of animals comes from, and he’ll tell you he has been taught to respect all animals and human beings. He explains that ‘love’ is restricted to only a select few, and it narrows your worldview and eliminates many from your attention. Respect, on the other hand, is all-encompassing, keeps you curious, aware, appreciative and willing to explore.

But, of course, he has a greater respect for animals than humans “because animals don’t lie or cheat or deceive”.

The book has its humorous aspects too, such as on pages 138 and 139 in which Bernard shares about why (the late) Ah Meng didn’t like him very much, and how he would not be photographed with her unless her keepers were close by.

Also, under that chastity-protecting leaf (as shown on the book’s cover) are balls, indeed. On pages 179 and 180, Bernard gives his account of how he thinks the man who replaced Dr Kwa as Executive Chairman of WRS is a money-grubbing fella (my words!) who priced tickets and other services (like F&B) within the zoo out of reach of average households. 😀

Bernard also thinks that 90% of zoos should be shut down because they do not treat animals with respect. And he happily names those zoos that he thinks treat animals well.

I think this book, while confusing at the start (it suddenly mentions the name of Bernard’s third wife without any introduction before that, and I am left wondering who this lady is), succeeds in shedding light on this enigmatic figure – half-Tarzan, half-visionary – who now lives in Bali while his wife dreams of starting a handbag museum in Penang.

Some notable quotes:

1) On pg 191: “Always value every single person you get to meet in life. You never know if anyone right now will later become someone you would need help from in the future.”

2) His son, Sean, has this to say about him: “My dad has the gift of being absolutely present during a given time.” (I’d have to say that many parents don’t have this gift)

3) On Creativity (pg 214) “Creativity is not for the weak of heart, nor for those who constantly worry what others might think of them or their work.”

All in all, I think this book offers a good read. Definitely not a stuffy biography. 🙂