Ah Meng, zoo chief pals? Think again
Krist Boo
Sun, Apr 15, 2001
The Sunday Times

THE word is out.

The zoo's two stars, Ah Meng and Mr Bernard Harrison, do not get along.

Despite a partnership stretching almost 30 years, the celebrity orang-utan has a dislike for the park's chief, said a zoo source.

"When Ah Meng is having breakfast and Mr Harrison walks over, she'll just turn away and ignore him.

"She's a prima donna," the source added with a chuckle.

In an interview, Mr Harrison himself confirmed that the relationship between him and the primate, whose wrinkled face has sold Singapore worldwide, has never been cosy.

Ironically, the 40-year-old orang-utan was as fresh-faced as he was when he joined the zoo 27 years ago.

Mr Harrison, the man associated closely with the success of the Singapore Zoological Gardens and the Night Safari, recalled: "When I first met her, she wasn't the queen at all.

"She wasn't the diva.

"There was another orang-utan, Susie. But Susie died after she gave birth, and Ah Meng became the one to take her place."

Their relationship was most strained in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Ah Meng was at the height of her fame.

Then, the duo were posing together in pictures every other day.

Said Mr Harrison: "We had a relationship on camera.

"We always appeared like good friends, but we were not that close."

He said Ah Meng showed how she felt about him quite clearly.

"The hair on orang-utans' shoulders stands up when they're angry.

"Hers used to do that."

He has no definite answer as to why he gets the cold shoulder while keepers get affectionate whines and looks, but he believes it has to do with an old misunderstanding between them.

He said: "I used to bring her out and take her on tram rides. Then I stopped doing that.

"Maybe she got upset.

"But she has a strong personality. She has her likes and dislikes," he added.

However, age seems to have mellowed both.

Their relationship has moved into "cordial" mode now.

He bumps into her once every two to three months, when she takes her breakfast with guests, who are almost always VIPs.

He said with a shrug: ''I go over and say hello.

"And she just ignores me."

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Apr 15, 2001.


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