Abdullah Sholeh and Bengal tiger Mulan are the best of friends. The inseparable pair do everything together, from eating to sleeping and even play fighting. However, while their friendship may appear cute, it could easily turn deadly.
Abdullah comes from Malang in the East Java province of Indonesia. The area is known for its vast array of native wildlife, which includes gibbons, rhinoceroses and monkeys. However, Abdullah can call an even more exotic creature his friend.
Since 2008 Abdullah has lived with a Bengal tiger known as Mulan. He first came to know the animal after its owner, Noer Muhammad Sholeh, asked the student to care for the cat at his home.
Abdullah accepted Noer’s offer and before long, he found himself responsible for a three-month-old tiger cub. In the wild, Bengal tigers are capable of preying on animals as large as a water buffalo. They have also been known to attack humans. So it’s safe to say that Abdullah certainly had his work cut out.
With that in mind, it was important that Abdullah established a bond with Mulan. So from a very early stage, he began monitoring the animal closely. He got to know her personality and traits so that he could attempt to care for her without risking his life.
Abdullah was so dedicated in his mission to win Mulan’s trust that alongside looking after the tiger throughout the day, he also slept with her at night, albeit with metal bars to separate them. Due to this 24-hour care, Abdullah soon became known as the “tiger nanny” among his neighbors and friends.
Explaining his unique bond with Mulan, in 2012 Abdullah explained to Barcroft TV, “Since she arrived here, I have always looked after her. I stay with her day and night, and she doesn’t like it when I leave her.”
However, while caring for Mulan has taken over his life, Abdullah wouldn’t have things any other way. “I am happy that I have been able to live with a tiger,” he explained. “I try to understand her nature, her mood, her daily and even momentary feelings in order to continue living with her.”
Abdullah’s attitude towards Mulan is certainly different to prevailing feelings towards Bengal tigers in Asia, where the species’ future remains in peril. With that in mind, the beautiful creatures are now classified as endangered, with fewer than 2,500 individuals left in the wild.
Some of the biggest threats facing the Bengal tiger include poaching, habitat loss, and human-tiger conflict. And while conservation efforts have been implemented across Asia, the population continues to decline. So although her life is far from ordinary, at least Mulan has someone to look out for her.
One of Abdullah’s most important daily tasks is preparing Mulan’s food. Each day, the big cat consumes more than 26 pounds of goat or chicken meat. But according to her nanny, her favorite thing to eat is actually instant noodles.
In fact, Mulan has acquired a taste for human foods thanks to her relationship with Abdullah. He admitted that he often lets the Bengal tiger sample his food. Sometimes, he even allows her to take morsels directly from his own mouth.
Abdullah explained, “Mulan is a spoiled tiger. She is exactly like a best friend. She always plays with me and eats what I eat.” He describes that, “She likes to try a bit of my food. If she doesn’t like it she will leave it, but if she likes it, she will finish my food.”
And sharing his food with Mulan isn’t the only way in which Abdullah comes too close for comfort with the tiger. That’s because he also likes to indulge the big cat’s fun-loving side by participating in dangerous play fights.
However, given that she weighs 27 stone and has razor-sharp teeth and claws, wrestling with Mulan is not without its risks. Describing one near-miss, Abdullah revealed, “I was lucky, Mulan’s claw nearly took my eye out. It scratched just below my eyeball and cut the lower eyelid.”
But Abdullah is confident that Mulan never means to hurt him and simply underestimates her own strength. “If an accident was to happen, I know it is not her intention,” he said. “She is just being a tiger, but I take that risk every time I go in with her.”
With that in mind, Abdullah doesn’t get angry if Mulan does injure him, which is a good job since he gets cut often. “Having a bit of a scar from her doesn’t mean anything to me, getting a scratch or even a bite from her is a common thing,” he said.
Abdullah added, “I realize that she is an animal who has her own instinct – she is just like a cat. When she is playing she can scratch and bite, and those are just a few of the risks that I have to face. That’s why we have to learn about her character.”
However, Abdullah doesn’t spend all of his time defending himself from Mulan. Often, the tiger shows him a great deal of affection. In fact, she has even been known to cuddle and kiss her carer, which has only strengthened their bond further.
With that in mind, the pair are inseparable, with Mulan finding any partings between her and Abdullah particularly tricky. “If I am not home, Mulan will be trying to find me, she will be anxious,” he explained. “That is why I am always with her to play, to sleep and to feed her. That is how I spend my days.”