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NH¬N D¬N (Hanoi, Vietnam) 27 March 03 Daredevil tames a croc of gold
The show is painstakingly contained within a 30 square metre area at the eco-tourism park in the city's Can Gio district, about 60 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City.
Thirty-one-year-old Nguyen Van Tuan first put the show on last year, when he became the nation's first and only crocodile showman.
"I didn't really know anything about crocodiles when I started out," he says. Before working at the show he had a stint in the army before working as a forest ranger in Can Gio.
The eco-tourism park decided to branch out into crocodile shows after the deputy boss returned from Thailand with glowing reports of similar demonstrations.
The park bought two medium sized crocodiles from the city's local crocodile farm. They were put through a rigorous training and selection process, which only one of them successfully completed. The other was too violent, and was considered a danger to possible audiences.
Saigon Circus trainer Kieu Xuan Long was then invited to come and lend his animal expertise at the park, teaching a handful of youngsters how to grapple with and control the animal.
But after three months, only Tuan was considered fit for a one-on-one encounter with the beast.
Tuan has an insider's understanding of crocodile behaviour. He says they're fond of peace and quiet, adding, "it takes a long time for them to get used to being around people and not to lose their tempers when confronted with a crowd. "
Tuan trains every two days on the stage where the show takes place.
He also feeds the crocodile every day so gets used to his mannerisms and smell.
He's well aware of the dangers crocodiles can pose. On one occasion he was attacked by a Cuban crocodile - the most dangerous crocodiles in the world - which left eight scars on his shoulder.
He has a four-year-old son who he warns not to call out during performance, particularly when his head is in the crocodile's mouth.
"I can't concentrate on my job when my son calls out to me. That's when it gets very dangerous. A loss of concentration while I'm performing could spell death.
"When I kiss or fondle the crocodile or put my head in his jaws, I have to make sure I don't touch other parts of his body," Tuan says.
Spectators at the shows are forbidden from using flash cameras and from throwing things on stage." Noise and sudden lights could startle the crocodile and make him lunge at someone in the audience" he warns.
Before a show begins, Tuan takes a stick and gently knocks the crocodile on the mouth until it lies motionless on the ground and closes its eyes. "From then on the crocodile obeys me," he says. "I don't need to wear any lucky charms.
"It's easier for crocodiles to attack people when they're further away from them.
"If you stand close to them you can avoid their swipes," he advises.
He never changes his clothes when he's working with the crocodiles in case they get disorientated by new smells.
You can catch Tuan and his crocodile every Saturday and Sunday at the Can Gio eco-tourism park, at 9am and 3pm. (VNS)