Reeling from pandemic, Hungarian zookeeper puts price tag on his life’s work



    FELSOLAJOS, Hungary. – Tibor Toth plays every day with Mohini and Begum, white Bengal tigers he has bottle-fed like dozens of other rare animals in the zoo he has built up over 25 years.

    The Hungarian zoo owner said he was inspired by Austrian-born naturalist Joy Adamson, who in her book “Born Free” told the story of how she and her husband raised a lion cub and trained it to fend for itself. The famous cub, named Elsa, was released back into the wild.

    Toth’s private zoo in the town of Felsolajos, which houses around 400 animals, had about 100,000 visitors a year before the coronavirus pandemic hit Hungary.

    It has been closed to visitors for most of the past year, which means Toth has used up most of his savings and may have to sell his animals.

    “The pandemic came, which rattled us badly, and today we often get up not knowing what the next day will bring and thinking that this is the end of it now after 25 years,” he said, giving a whipped cream treat to the Bengal tigers.

    Over the years, Toth has raised 43 big cats, from white lions to white tigers. They have been bottle-fed and love the company of humans.

    In 2014, white lion cubs Nala and Mombasa arrived at the zoo in poor condition. With good care, they have grown and Nala may be expecting cubs of her own, Toth said.

    He is still holding out but admits he has drawn up a price list for the animals, and listed zoos he will contact if all else fails. But he would not be willing to separate siblings.

    “If I shut the zoo down then I shut down my own life. This is my life, my dream, my passion,” he said.