Bernard Harrison



Bernard Ming-Deh Harrison (b. 1951, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya–)1 was the executive director of the Singapore Zoo from 1981 to 2002, and the chief executive officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore from 2000 to 2002. Credited with having a creative and innovative vision, Harrison is synonymous with the Singapore Zoo, having introduced  an open-concept animal display and its Night Safari, to international acclaim.

Early life
Harrison grew up in a close-knit and secure family, with his mother as the domestic care-giver and his father the educator. His father read to Harrison and his brother every night and chatted with them about anything they had read or seen during the day.2 Harrison was always surrounded by animals and pets even at a young age. During their teenage years, Harrison and his brother followed their father, a prominent British zoologist, on numerous field trips into the Malaysian rainforests, learning first-hand about the tropical flora and fauna. Influenced by his father, Harrison soon acquired a love and passion for wildlife.3


Career
At the age of 22,4 just after graduating from the University of Manchester in Britain with double honours in zoology and psychology, Harrison applied for the post of executive officer with the Singapore Zoological Gardens. Unfortunately, he failed the essay-writing component of the interview and was unsuccessful in getting the job. However, due to his mother’s intervention, Harrison was eventually given the meagre-salaried post of an assistant administrative officer in 1973. Over the years, he rose through the ranks as curator and assistant director to become the Zoo’s executive director in 1981. During that time, he made a passionate plea on the neglected role of the Zoo as an institution for scientific research and conservation.5 In 1991, his efforts were recognised by foreign delegates of the International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens, who highly commended the Singapore Zoological Garden’s achievements.6

With his grey-streaked shaggy hair-do and often seen in jeans and t-shirt, Harrison was affectionately regarded by employees as a friendly bohemian “Tarzan”.7 During his term, he conceived the idea of new zoo displays such as the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia (a replica of an Ethiopian village built at a cost of S$4.2 m, which was opened in 2001), the Fragile Forest (a miniature eco-system which opened in November 1998 and built at a cost of S$4.5 m),8 and the Night Safari (opened in 1994). However, it is the Singapore Zoo’s open concept of showcasing animals that Harrison is most respected for. Under his leadership and with the blessings of the Zoo’s chairman, the late Ong Swee Law (Dr), the animal enclosures were no longer cages with captives, but instead specially designed playgrounds for creatures.9 He even extended the open concept to the washrooms with see-through fencing and basins among plants, an idea inspired by a Bali vacation. The cost of revamping 18 of the Zoo’s toilets and the Night Safari’s six toilets over six years was S$35,000.10 It was no wonder that the Singapore Zoological Gardens and the Night Safari were often winners of the Singapore’s Leisure Attractions of the Year.11


When Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) was formed in August 2000 to oversee the operations of the Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and Night Safari, Harrison was appointed the parent company’s chief executive officer, in addition to his role as executive director of the Zoo.12 The new management dynamics and culture differed from Harrison’s consultative, less hands-on, or “management by exception” style.13 Moreover, WRS’s heightened emphasis on finance did not fit well with Harrison’s interest in creativity and zoo design.14

In February 2002, Harrison tendered his resignation (effective from September 2002) as chief executive officer of WRS, after a 29-year career with the Zoo.15 His temporary successor was Ho Yew Kee, the deputy chief executive officer.16 On 15 October 2002, Asad Shiraz, a senior marketing director of tourism in the Singapore Tourism Board, was appointed chief executive officer of WRS.17 Harrison was made an honorary consultant of the Zoo.18

After leaving WRS, Harrison set up his own zoo consultancy business, Bernard Harrison & Friends, with his wife Tina Lim. Through this venture he has continued his creative expressions in zoo design and his advocacy for animals.19 

Education20
Primary school: Tanglin Preparatory School (Singapore)
Secondary school: Boarding school (Middlehurst, England)
Tertiary education: University of Manchester (Britain)

Publication
1984: Malacca and beyond: To… Catch me a star. Singapore: Media Masters Singapore.
(Call no.: RSING M823 HAR)

Family
Father: John Leonard Harrison, a prominent British zoologist who specialised in rodent research, was stationed in Singapore as a major in the British army in 1945, where he met his wife. In 1951, he was a zoologist at the Institute of Medical Research in Australia and in 1961, he was an associate professor of zoology at Singapore’s Nanyang University, moving to the University of Singapore to become professor of zoology in 1963. He passed away in 1972 at the age of 54, from a disease contracted during his research at the Institute of Medical Science in Australia.
Mother: Song Kiew Ying was a nurse by profession and was born in China, but raised in Ipoh, Malaysia. Religiously inclined, she was a deaconess of the Jehovah True God Church, while John Harrison was an agnostic.21
Elder brother: Edward is a botanist who studied at Oxford.
First marriage: To Sherry Vanderput.
Second marriage: To Nazli Anwari, a trained horticulturist. He separated from her in 1999.
Wife: Tina Lim.
Children: Sharda, daughter and son, Sean, with ex-wife Nazli; and step-sons, Alex and Christian, with wife Tina.22



Author

Sharon Teng 



References

1. Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 30, 120. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
2. Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 3, 31. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
3. Shekaran, K. (1992, November 29). A menagerie of memories. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 31–33. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
4. Shekaran, K. (1992, November 29). A menagerie of memories. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Conservation: Where does Singapore Zoological Gardens fit in [Microfilm no.: NL 154047]. (1981, April 15). Mirror, 17(8), 4–6.
6. Sharp, I. (1994). The first 21 years: The Singapore Zoological Gardens story. Singapore: Singapore Zoological Gardens, pp. 25, 84, 148–149. (Call no.: RSING 590.7445957 SHA); Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 47–48, 79, 117–118. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
7. Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 82–86, 90. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
8. Chia, E. (2001, December 1). Ethiopia in the zoo. Today, p. 27; Lee, J. (1998, November 8). Zoo unveils the Fragile Forest. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The night-zoo. (1993, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 2; 5 more trams for Night Safari. (1994, December 8). The Straits Times, p. 25; Mandrills roam free in zoo. (1985, February, 16). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 87, 89, 94–96, 107–115. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
10. Hotspots in the zoo. (2002, July 7). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Tung, C. (2001, November 2). The wild side. Today, p. 71; Bright star in the night. (1999, November 23). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Boo, K. (2002, July 22). Zoo exodus blamed on management style clash. The Straits Times, p. 3; 3 attractions team up to draw visitors. (2000, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Sharp, I. (1994). The first 21 years: The Singapore Zoological Gardens story. Singapore: Singapore Zoological Gardens, p. 84. (Call no.: RSING 590.7445957 SHA); Wee, T. (2002, July 7). Leaving the throne for the unknown. The Straits Times, p. 2; What happened then. (2002, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Boo, K. (2002, July 22). Zoo exodus blamed on management style clash. The Straits Times, p. 3; Wee, T. (2002, July 7). Leaving the throne for the unknown. The Straits Times, pp. 2–3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 98–99. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
15. Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
16. Boo, K. (2002, July 3). Zoo’s chief departure shocks staff. The Straits Times, p. 6; Boo, K. (2002, July 3). Zoo man turns in his keys. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Tourism man to head and market wildlife parks. (2002, October 16). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Frances, J., & Teoh, H. (2002, July 3). The call of the wild. Today, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lui, J. (2011, October 3). Animal crusader. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 171–176. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
[20. Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 40, 42–43. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
21. Shekaran, K. (1992, November 29). A menagerie of memories. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 22–23, 36, 52. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)
22. Sharp, I. (1994). The first 21 years: The Singapore Zoological Gardens story. Singapore: Singapore Zoological Gardens, pp. 10, 85. (Call no.: RSING 590.7445957 SHA); Singh, K. (2014). Naked ape, naked boss: Bernard Harrison: The man behind the Singapore Zoo & the world’s first Night Safari. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, pp. 34, 60–70, 152–164. (Call no.: RSING 590.735957092 SIN)



Further resources
Conservation: Where does Singapore Zoological Gardens fit in [Microfilm no.: NL 154047]. (1981, April 15). Mirror, 17(8), 4–6.

Harrison, B. (1986). Designing a naturalistic environment at the Singapore Zoological Gardens. Architecture Journal, 1–6.
(Call no.: RCLOS 720.5 USSASA)

Lok, M. (200–). A field guide to Night Safari. Singapore: Night Safari.
(Call no.: RSING 590.735957 FIE)

Lok, M., Guha, B., & Ganesh, A. (200–). A field guide to Singapore Zoo. Singapore: Singapore Zoo.
(Call no.: RSING 590.735957 FIE)

Wildlife Reserves Singapore. (n.d). Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Retrieved 2016, October 10 from Wildlife Reserves Singapore website: http://www.wrs.com.sg/



The information in this article is valid as at 22 July 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Bernard Ming-Deh Harrison, 1951-
Science and technology>>Zoology
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
Community leaders
Chief executive officers--Singapore--Biography
Zoos--Singapore