The baby tiger grasps the man’s arm with its front legs while sucking warm milk from a bottle.
That is its 3 a.m. meal. The next will come in three hours.
It quickly falls back to sleep as the man washes the bottle before cleaning milk drops on the floor.
Nguyen Ba Phu takes care of the cub at the Saigon Zoo with two colleagues.
"It's like a mother taking care of her newborn,” he said.
The 32-year-old vet is among a team of experts who helped the only white Bengal tiger couple mate at the zoo.
They eventually give birth to three cubs two months ago, an extremely rare event during the 150 years of the zoo’s history.
Two of the cubs are staying with the mother. Phuc and his two colleagues have been taking care of the weaker one in a room of more than 20 square meters.
They give the cub ground beef during the day, but milk feeding is a harder job.
Phuc said the cub usually finishes a bottle in 15 minutes, but when it does not feel well, they have to feed it for an hour.
“It has a bottle every three or four hours. One of us needs to stay up all night to make sure it won’t miss a meal,” Phuc said.
The cub has gained eight kilograms since its birth. Its healthy growth means a lot to the experts at the zoo, who consider the cubs precious treasures.
One of three tiger cubs delivered at Saigon Zoo in July 2015. Two of them stay with the mother and this weaker one receives special from the veterans team. Photo: Pham Huu
Illegal poaching, stress from human contact while in captivity and inbreeding are among the factors pushing white Bengal tigers to close extinction.
There are only several hundreds of the animal worldwide, almost all in captivity.
Saigon Zoo brought in the pair of male and female white tigers from Canada in 2009. They have been raised separately most of the time so they would not fight.
Nguyen Pham Minh Phuong, who helped the two mate, said the animal’s reproduction cycle is between 30 and 75 days.
During the female’s pregnancy, which lasted 104 days, the zoo set up four cameras around its cage to monitor it.
“Then we were very anxious watching the delivery through the camera. And when we saw the cubs coming out healthy, we were so glad we almost cried,” Phuong said.
Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens is one of the biggest zoos in Vietnam, located right in heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
A group of young experts, most in their 30s, are taking care of more than 1,000 animals including endangered monkeys and tigers.
They have successfully helped two pairs of yellow Bengal tigers breed, including one pair that gave birth to five cubs last year.