Family live in caravan to look after pet lions and tigers
A SOUTH AFRICAN family are living in an isolated trailer - so they can provide their tigers and lions a home.
The Fernandes family once owned the luxurious Jugomaro Predator Park, which was home for their pet tigers and lions for seven years.
The beautiful enclosures and fields the size of football pitches meant their beloved big cats had a five-star complex and were even allowed to go inside the family house.
But sadly, in November 2015, the luxurious retreat was demolished when owner Rosa and her children, Justin and Maxine, ran into financial difficulties and the liquidators gained control of their home and dumped their possessions in a waste pile - leaving their six lions, 10 tigers, three caracals and one jaguar with no home.
This detrimental change of circumstance forced the distraught family to flee to a section of land in Krugersdorp, South Africa, where they are currently living in a trailer and have to wash and go to the toilet in the nearest bushes.
But despite all of their loss, the trio put everything they have into their beloved pets that now live in smaller enclosures just 50 metres away from their trailer home.
Justin, 31, said: “I see the cats as a big part of my family.
“These animals mean so much to me that I put my life on the line for them.
“I’d rather be killed by one of my cats than being in town and getting murdered for 50 rand and my cell phone.”
After taking care of the animals for nine years, Justin’s level of interaction with the lions and tigers is very intimate.
He plays football with them, brushes their fur, massages their ears and can even provide mouth-to-mouth feeding with rare meat.
He said: “The daily routine we have with the animals consists of waking up early in the morning, going around and checking if they are all okay.
“Because I keep contact with the cats every single day, I get to hand-feed them and this is why they are so different towards me.
“I can do a lot more things with these big cats than what most people can do with their dog.
“The feeding process costs me around 11,500 rand a week – equivalent to about $800 or £600.
“We go through a thousand kilos of chicken a day.”
Despite having a few close calls with the animals, Justin has never been attacked or seriously injured.
“I have a bite mark from Elvis,” Justin added.
“I was busy feeding him and as he turned around, he closed his mouth and basically my boob was in his mouth.
“I also have scratches from Zeya, Apollo and Blade. But after nine years working with these cats, they are the only marks I have.”
It was their love and passion for big animals that inspired the family to get their first tiger pet back in 2008.
Rosa, 53, said: “We went to visit a farm one day and we came across a tiger – the mother was trying to get rid of it because he looked different to the other siblings.
“We felt so sorry for this little tiger and so we asked the owner if he would give us this cat.
“With a lot of love and dedication, we nursed him back to full health and his name was Panjo – that is how we first started.”
Maxine, 28, continued: “As the cats then started to come into our lives, we looked after them like our own children.
“We brought them up in our home and generally took care of them when they came in or needed rescuing.
“They all hold special places in each of our hearts.”
The devastation of losing the park after rescuing their first tiger hit the family hard.
Rosa said: “We left with just the clothes on our back.
“We lost three tigers with the relocation, two wolves and a caracal.
“It was very sad to think that for so many years we really saved and went out of our way to build our animals pools and to make the environment as natural as possible.
“It is very sad to think of what we had and where we are now – it is so hard because they were used to their pools and now they have only got small tubs.”
Since losing the park, Rosa, Justin and Maxine are currently trying their best to make use of their natural surroundings.
Rosa said: “We are currently living in a caravan and it is a little bit difficult as it is like all open in the bush.
“We have got an outdoor shower, which we have to boil our water for – it takes about three hours.
“We have been living like this for more than a year now – it would have been easy for us to sell the cats and get back on our feet again but unfortunately for our family that wasn’t an option.
“We’d rather have nothing and have our cats.”
The Fernandes family are now looking for their own piece of land to rebuild a better park for the animals again.
“I want to give my kids a better home as well,” Rosa added.
“Even if I have to stay in the caravan for another year, I don’t mind.
“The most important thing is to give them all proper swimming pools and proper shelters and trees. That’s my dream for them.”
You can follow the family’s journey on their Facebook page, where they accept donations in order to help them rebuild their dream park: https://www.facebook.com/Jugomaro/?fref=ts