Caring for the big cats at Thủ Lệ Zoo

August 02, 2022 - 10:23
Trần Thị Ngọc, one of six members of the animal care team at Thủ Lệ Zoo, is assigned to look after wild animals such as tigers, lions and bears.


Trần Thị Ngọc with a tiger at Thủ Lệ Zoo. Photo

HÀ NỘI — After 20 years, Trần Thị Ngọc has now gotten used to the loud roars of tigers and other animals.

Ngọc, one of six members of the animal care team at Thủ Lệ Zoo, is assigned to look after wild animals such as tigers, lions and bears.

The 47-year-old has spent 20 years in this job. Every morning, she cleans the cages and feeds the animals. 

Ngọc said when animals first come to the zoo, some were scared and hid in the corner of the cage. Others were very aggressive and looked for ways to escape. They often roared when seeing members of the public, causing people to panic.

With many years of experience caring for tigers, Ngọc began to get acquainted with the big cats. 

"I use emotions and food to make friends with them," Ngọc told online newspaper.

Though not allowed to roam free, the big cats here are given protection, medical care, and a balanced diet.  

After two months of being at the zoo, the tigers gradually get used to their new life and become friends with their caretakers. 

They rub their heads gently against the iron fences of the enclosures, waiting for a pat on the head from their human friends.

Taking care of a tiger is more difficult than taking care of a baby because children can talk, while humans do not understand the tiger's actions, according to Ngọc.

In addition to taking care of two tigers, Ngọc also takes care of a lion.

The lion named Chăm lost her mother at birth. Ngọc spoonfed Chăm milk and went into the enclosure to teach the young lion how to eat meat. 

After three years, Chăm now has a special bond with Ngọc.

"In my free time, I rub my nose against the lion's. She rubs her body against the iron bars and waits for a pat when seeing me," Ngọc said.


Trần Thị Ngọc with a tiger. Photo

Ngọc remembered how scared she was during her first days at work.

She got scared every time she heard tigers roar or their ferocity when they rushed towards the iron bars. Her heart beat faster and her legs trembled. Sometimes, she woke up startled by the sound of tigers.

Her wrists have many small scars, evidence of the bites of young tigers. 

"They seem gentle when I take care of them for a while, but they still bully me when I get close to them," Ngọc said. 

"At such times, I also had to raise my voice to threaten them and their faces were less aggressive the next time," she said.

Tigers and lions are kept in secure enclosures to ensure the caregivers are safe and the animals can still have some space of their own so they can frolic.

“I often whisper to them when I’m feeding them or cleaning their cages. They're cute, but I still have to be vigilant because they're still animals."

Having been with wild animals for 20 years, Ngọc has welcomed many new friends to the zoo, but also witnessed a number of old animals passing away.

During their last days, Ngọc would sit by the cages and try to feed them. Sometimes she even missed dinner with her family.

Once, Ngọc and her team members had to take care of a tiger who was injured in a fight.

They had to put the tiger in a cage and used a large wooden board to make a bed and lay next to the cage to monitor the tiger's health.

"When the tiger went to lick its wound, we had to shout or use food to distract it. The lion's cage was always kept clean to avoid infection," said Ngọc. — VNS