Dan slurped desperately on his pink nursing bottle and spilled milk all over the place, while his brother Tom patiently waited to take a swim in the family pool.
It would be a typical family scene if not for the fact that Dan and Tom tip the scales at 318kg, have claws that could slice a man in two and were raised along with seven other tigers sleeping in the beds of Ary Borges’ three daughters.
The big cats still amble about his humble home in the middle of an industrial neighborhood in this southern Brazil city, even if experts say the situation is “crazy” and sure to eventually lead to a mauling, though one has yet to occur.
Borges also has two lions, a monkey and a pet Chihuahua named Little inside his makeshift animal sanctuary, where man and beast live together in his spacious red dirt compound, separated from the outside world by tall metal fences and high wooden walls.
The Brazilian family is now locked in a legal dispute for the cats, with federal wildlife officials working to take them away.
While Borges does have a license to raise the animals, Brazilian wildlife officials say he illegally bred the tigers, creating a public danger.
Borges says it all started in 2005 when he first rescued two abused tigers from a traveling circus.
He defends his right to breed the animals and argues he gives them a better home than they might find elsewhere in Brazil.
The agency is working through courts to force Borges to have the male tigers undergo vasectomies so they cannot reproduce. It also wants his caretaker license confiscated and to obtain the cats. Borges appealed and the matter is pending before a federal court.
Ary’s daughter Nayara Borges, 20, who grew up with the tiger cubs sleeping in her bed until they became too big, says she thinks the big cats would be mistreated if taken away, “and our family would go into a severe depression.”
Experts sharply question the Borges family’s efforts.
Finch said that “you will see people sometimes get lucky for a while, but sooner or later an accident is going to happen. You never know what’s going to set these animals off because they’re wild.”
Instead of promoting the animal’s welfare, Finch said the Borges have done the opposite.
“Breeding in captivity doesn’t help conserve the tigers unless they’re bred in their native habitat and there is a plan to release them,” she said. “They can’t get habituated to people. They’re condemning these tigers to a life of captivity.”