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New Acres chiefs hope to correct S’poreans’ misperceptions about wildlife, step up animal rescue capabilities

SINGAPORE — When Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan accepted a job as a volunteer coordinator at the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) in 2009, he quit within a day.

Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan (left) and Ms Anbarasi Boopal (right), the new co-chiefs of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, at the group's wildlife rescue centre on Jan 8, 2021.

Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan (left) and Ms Anbarasi Boopal (right), the new co-chiefs of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, at the group's wildlife rescue centre on Jan 8, 2021.

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  • Ms Anbarasi Boopal and Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan are the new co-chief executive officers of Acres
  • They take over from MP Louis Ng, who founded the non-profit two decades ago 
  • The new leaders had to overcome financial constraints and convince family of their decision to join Acres
  • They want to change the perception that wild animals are pests


SINGAPORE — When Mr Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan accepted a job as a volunteer coordinator at the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) in 2009, he quit within a day.

Mr Kalai, then 23, had had a change of heart and wanted to pursue a degree in design at the Lasalle College of the Arts to keep his career options open.

But after a dalliance with the design field proved unenjoyable, the Singaporean found himself returning to Acres as a wildlife rescue officer in 2011. He was not planning to stay for long even then. 

The 35-year-old said: “I told (Acres founder) Louis (Ng): 'I’m just joining to help you because you have very little manpower. I’m going to be here for three months at most and look for another job while I’m here.'”

Three months turned into 10 years for Mr Kalai, who recently took on the role of co-chief executive officer (CEO) at the animal conservation and wildlife rescue group. 

He is leading Acres, founded by Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng in 2001, with Ms Anbarasi Boopal, 38.

Mr Ng, 42, announced on Facebook on New Year’s Day that he had stepped down as CEO of the non-profit and would be handing over the reins to the pair. 

Mr Kalai had been Mr Ng's deputy for the last four years and Ms Anbarasi, for the last six. 

Mr Ng told TODAY last week that he had been planning for his succession since assuming his duties as MP for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency in 2015.

“(Acres) has been my baby for a long time, but I’ve always said it’s unhealthy for it to continue to be my baby forever. The younger generation has new ideas to take the organisation to the next chapter and do bigger things.”

On Mr Ng’s watch, Acres has led several prominent national campaigns. These included successfully ending the use of chimpanzees for photography sessions at the Singapore Zoo and exposing the illegal exotic-pet trade in Singapore.

Mr Ng said that he would continue raising animal welfare issues in Parliament and stay in close contact with the Acres team. 


As co-CEOs, Ms Anbarasi will handle the advocacy arm of the group, while Mr Kalai will oversee wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.

They manage 19 full-time employees and several hundred volunteers.

Their first campaign, set to be launched sometime this year, will be to promote co-existence between humans and wildlife. 

Ms Anbarasi said that with Singapore’s aim to bring people closer to nature, it is time to correct the misperception in some quarters that wild animals are pests.

Mr Kalai added that Acres also hopes to expand its operational capabilities, with the number of calls to its 24-hour wildlife rescue hotline rising from 800 a month five years ago to 1,200 monthly at present.

Despite having to deal with more rescue operations, the organisation has just one van. It will carry out “intensive” fundraising this year to step up its capabilities to deal with rescue efforts, he added.

Right now, Acres racks up operating costs of about S$80,000 a month. Mr Kalai said that establishing long-term financial sustainability and raising its ability to provide better salary packages would be crucial to retaining employees. 

He cautioned, however, that a lower-than-average wage would be the financial reality for those joining Acres.

Ms Anbarasi and Mr Kalai each take home S$2,600 monthly.

He said that staff members at Acres put a premium on a job that aligns with their values, rather than money.


Sitting down with TODAY at Acres’ office in Sungei Tengah last week, Ms Anbarasi recounted the uphill battle to convince her family of her decision to join Acres more than a decade ago. 

The Indian national and Singapore permanent resident started volunteering there in 2005 while pursuing a master’s degree in environmental management at the National University of Singapore. 

She joined a human rights charity after graduation, “but the calling was so strong for animals” that she returned to work for Acres full-time in 2007. 

She went from drawing S$3,000 a month to just S$500.

Ms Anbarasi said: “My mother thought I was crazy.” 

The initial years were rough. 

Ms Anbarasi, who also has a master’s degree in life sciences, had barely enough to make ends meet and was living out of Mr Ng’s Housing and Development Board flat for more than a year because she could not afford rent.

But she was young and bent on helping Acres start its rescue centre.

She said: “(I) just took it up because there is a team to support and there’s too much work that needs to be done.” 

She moved out of Mr Ng’s home in 2009 and has been living in a room on Acres’ property since. 

Ms Anbarasi said: “I step out and I immediately see greenery, grass and chickens. It’s a beautiful place.”

Mr Kalai said that he had stayed at Acres over the years because it was “addictive” to apply his design skills to help animals.

Mr Kalai was instrumental in designing and gathering volunteers to start Acres’ wildlife sanctuary in 2013.

He also experienced a “landmark” moment when he facilitated the first animal repatriation at the organisation. In 2017, he arranged to return a Malaysian giant turtle to Malaysia, a tall order given the red tape involved.

Despite his achievements, Mr Kalai said that it was difficult to convince his family that working at Acres was “a real job”.

They came around to the idea only after he was first featured in the news in 2014. His mother called his relatives to tell them that Mr Kalai’s photo had appeared in the newspapers.

“It was so embarrassing, but I think that’s when my parents realised it’s not bad after all and I really enjoyed the job.”

Related topics

Acres animal welfare Louis Ng Kalai Vanan Balakrishnan Anbarasi Boopal

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