“Come here, come here for a meal! I have good food for you all,” Ut Chat purred as soon as her small, round boat left the Tra Bong Estuary for Hon Tra Island.
Hearing her voice, a troop of monkeys in the forest quickly gathered around her.
The excited chatter of the monkeys seemed to respond to Ut Chat, who has taken care of them over the past several years.
The troop of monkeys was afraid of people, until they felt the love of Nguyen Thi Chat, alias Ut Chat, aged 78, who resides in Son Tra Village, Binh Dong Commune in Quang Ngai Province’s Binh Son District.
78-year-old woman raises monkeys as children
Son Tra Village in Binh Dong Commune is near the Dung Quat Economic Zone. As trees and mountains were cleared to make room for economic development, natural habitats became rare for animals.
Nobody knew that the troop of monkeys emigrated to the island in the middle of the Tra Bong River to seek a safe shelter.
Many people said that they arrived from Binh Thanh Commune on the opposite bank of the river, while some thought that they migrated to the island from the forest in Binh Thuan Commune.
However, they knew that the seaside forests which used to be home to monkeys had been leveled to serve economic growth.
No shelter and food forced the monkeys to leave for a new 'home.'
“A few years ago, while sailing a coracle [a small, round boat] offshore to fish, I saw some monkeys walking along the beach and swimming across the river to reach Hon Tra Island, the safest place for them,” said Thanh, whose house is located near the island.
The island, with no human influence, is very small and lies next to the estuary, making life hard, especially finding food.
During their first days on the island, the monkeys cried out all night.
No one knew the reason for their cries, assuming that they were calling their friends.
However, everyone realized that the monkeys were short of food as they habitually cried out for help when seeing any coracle heading out to sea.
Ut Chat said that she often visits a pagoda to give votive offerings.
She once came to the pagoda when someone jokingly told her to provide the monkeys with food. As such, she recollected their cries and borrowed a coracle and rowed to Hon Tra Island.
“At that time, the troop of monkeys ran away right after seeing me as they were afraid of people. It was possible they had earlier been driven away," Ut Chat recalled.
“After that, I returned home and went to the market to buy some fruits and brought them to the island for the monkeys.
"This was a pathetic sight of hungry monkeys.”
Seeing Ut Chat feed the monkeys, many people initially thought that she was standing on trifles and would give up soon.
However, each day, her neighbors witnessed her borrow a coracle to row to the island to feed them.
Now, no one is complaining about or discussing her actions. Instead, many have lent her a hand to rear the monkeys.
The residents there consider this action a beautiful image of the relationship between humans and animals.
As a result, many visitors across Vietnam travel to the village to enjoy the meaningful story and give money to Ut Chat so that she can buy more fruits for the monkeys.
Weird but true story
Ut Lien, owner of a beverage shop at the entrance to the village, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that whether it is sunny or rainy, Ut Chat always vends steamed glutinous rice and returns home with lots of fruit.
She must love the monkeys because she is completely wrapped up in this troop of monkeys.
Many vendors at the Binh Dong Market love her, thereby giving her some fairly shriveled fruits to feed the primates.
Normally, Ut Chat collects various fruits such as bananas, mangoes, dragon fruits, and watermelons weighing tens of kilograms, with most of them given by vendors.
Sometimes, she spends just VND50,000 (US$2.18) buying grapes to diversify food for them.
At the ripe old age of 78, Ut Chat is still healthy and strong enough to row your correspondent to Hon Tra Island.
One day, as soon as the coracle landed on island, the woman shouted out, “Come here, come here! I bring good food for you all.”
Responding to her call, the apes excitedly chattered to each other. However, they were hesitant to come due to the strangers.
|Ut Chat buys fruits and receives some from donors to bring them to Hon Tra Island for the monkeys. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre|
As such, she constantly waved at them and repeated “Come here! These guests came to visit you, not capture you. Don’t be scared.”
After they took a step backward, the primates gathered around Ut Chat and enjoyed their meal.
Gently smiling at them, Ut Chat carefully counted the number of monkeys there.
Counting the apes while giving food to them every day has become a habit.
During a storm in late 2021, no one lent her a coracle to head for the island due to danger.
Nearly a month later, when the weather improved, she hurriedly brought food to the island and discovered two monkeys going missing after counting.
At that time, she asked, “Where are the two monkeys? I will be mad at you and will not feed you unless you appear.”
“After that, the leader and two other monkeys ran into the forest, held two skulls, and put them into my bag, which is used to contain food.
"I understood that they had died of hunger and coldness.”
Ut Chat was telling the story honestly, which seemed to be fictional, but her sincere love for the primates made your correspondent believe it was true.
Sitting in the last glow of sunset, Ut Chat said that she did not remember how long she had been raising the monkeys, but she knew that they had borne three more babies.
That made her overjoyed. The monkeys appeared to feel her love.
On her first visit to the island after the storm last year, she brought food to the monkeys and whispered, “Who will feed you if I pass away?”
The fear of leaving the monkeys behind was reflected in her eyes while she was telling the story.
“I treat them as my children. I wish there were fruits and food on Hon Tra Island,” she said sadly.
When they were full, she patted a baby monkey on the head and said, “I must go home. I will bring fruit for you tomorrow.”
The troop of monkeys stood on a rock and their eyes followed her after she got on the coracle back home.
“They are so pitiful and lovely, so I do not have the heart to abandon them. I will continue feeding them until I die," Ut Chat said.
“Perhaps, it will become a monkey island in the future, and someone will plant fruit trees on the island for the monkeys.”
Though her action comes from love, she has inadvertently become a role model for wild animal protection and helped many people realize that the apes need love and care.
Residents of the Son Tra fishing village have pledged that they will help her take care of the primates.
“Since we saw what she has done, the commune has created the most favorable conditions so that she can rear the monkeys,” said Huynh Minh Thai, vice-chairman of the Binh Dong Commune People’s Council.
“Ut Chat has helped better the ecosystem in the commune.
"However, we are worried about her old age and wonder who would look after and feed the monkeys after she dies.
"We really appreciate her love for the apes.”