At Saigon zoo, animals and humans are family


Over 40 employees of the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden have forged close bonds with more than 1,000 animals they take care of every day.


“My job is to clean the cages and take care of the eating and sleeping of tigers, leopards, bears, lions and hyenas. I see them every day so we get along well now,” said Tran Ngoc Luan, 58, as he pets a hyena.

The Saigon Zoo was built in 1864, opened to the public a year later and now has over 125 animal species.

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Luan is up at 6:30 a.m. daily to clean up the cages and prepare water for carnivores.

“The job is tough but fun. The important thing is to have passion and love for animals,” said Luan, who has worked for the zoo since 2007.

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Luan divides buffalo meat into portions for two Indochinese tigers. Each tiger gets to eat five kilograms of meat a day divided into two meals: one in the afternoon and the other at night.

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Luan introduces a white tiger that has been raised by the zoo staff since it was young and its mother did not have enough milk.

“Now it’s big and weighs about 200 kilograms. Every time we pass by, it jumps up to greet us. It’s cute,” he said.

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The white tiger gets a health check when it was two-month-old, in this picture taken in 2015.

“It’s hard to raise young animals, especially young tigers as they need constant care, including giving them milk, massages, letting them sun-bathe and giving them regular health checks,” said Nguyen Pham Minh Phuong (R), head of the team taking care of carnivores.

When a tiger is three months old, it is allowed to mingle with its fellows from the same species.

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Huynh Le Ngoc Diem, a technician who has worked in the park for a decade, holds a rescued red-shanked douc.

“Anyone raising a douc would know that it’s ten times harder than raising a human child, as they are picky eaters and their digestive system works differently from other species’. It requires you to be meticulous and patient,” she said.

Since 2016, the park has received six rescued doucs.

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Diem trains a young douc to eat flowers and leaves.

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An eight-month-old douc still relys on unsweetened milk as it’s not familiar with herbal food yet.

“Every day, a young douc is fed four times, three hours apart. Too much or too little milk would make them sick. That’s why the amount of milk must be carefully calculated,” Diem said.

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Tran Van Tam, a member of the bird team, feeds birds in the zoo at 8:30 a.m. every day.

“This is an Oriental darter. It is smart. Whenever it sees me moving towards the bird island, it is the first one to jump on the ladder to get food,” he said.

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Tam is also in charge of putting fruits and vegetables on trees for a family of white-cheeked gibbons.

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As soon as food goes up a tree, a female gibbon, part of a family of three, takes a banana from the basket.