When Claudia Lifton traveled to Thailand on a mission to help elephants in the tourism industry, she had no idea that she would end up making a special connection with a totally different species.
She had stopped in Pak Bang, a tiny village in Laos. She took a walk into a rural area, and then saw a sickly 3-month-old baby monkey, tied by his neck in a cage outside a bicycle shop. She tried to tell the owner that the baby looked unwell, but nobody spoke English. Finally, Claudia learned that the baby had been saved from poachers who would have sold him into the exotic pet trade.
She tried to explain to the owners that he was going to die if he didn’t get medical care, but they refused to let him go, even after she offered them everything she had. Still, she refused to leave his side. Finally, she had an idea of how to make them let her take the monkey. Lifton staged a total meltdown that made her seem totally crazy. “All these people kept coming to the bicycle shop and seeing this crazy person weeping in front of the shop. They probably thought I was a lunatic, which I kind of was.”
The shop owners were so embarrassed by the scene she caused, that they agreed to let her take the monkey in exchange for her expensive camera. Once she left with the tiny creature, she had no idea what to do. She named him Nahuglai, which means “forever loved” in Laos. As the baby would not stop gripping her neck, she called him Hug for short. She wondered if she might have to stay in Laos forever.