The guttural squawks of the macaws set a tropical mood as the monkeys swing from the branches, nibbling a banana before stopping to pull faces at the bemused Bengal tiger.
Setting foot inside a sprawling Mosta warehouse is like landing on a small-scale zoo, where children can fulfil their dream to see the animals from their picture books come alive – from wallabies to swans, a mountain goat and a pony, among other animals.
At 36, Chris Borg has retained his childhood fascination with animals and his eyes light up whenever he speaks about Lentika, the 24-week-old cub, that is the latest ‘pet’ to enter his park.
Hearing her name, Lentika rubs her nuzzle against the wall, and rolls over on her back inviting her owner to come and play. Gnawing on the raw chicken drumstick, the tiger is oblivious to the fact that she has become the talk of the town.
Mr Borg, a businessman, admits the last thing he wanted when he set his mind on buying a tiger was media attention, especially since he claims there are other big cats on the island.
It all started two years ago when he was researching the process of buying a tiger, which for him was always the star attraction at every zoo he visited. He finally settled on Slovakia where the tigers were bred in captivity according to the rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
“When I saw Lentika, I just wanted to bring her home – the paperwork was the last thing on my mind,” Mr Borg said.
Instead, he had to settle for making weekly trips to Slovakia for two months to bond with the cub, feeding her milk from a baby’s bottle. Once the tiger’s documentation and passport were in order, Lentika could travel to her new home.
When the news spread that a tiger had entered Malta, many assumed it was illegal, but as long as animals are not listed as endangered species by Cites there is no law prohibiting their importation.
Last Friday, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority concluded the tiger had not been caught from the endangered Bengal species roaming the wild and its paperwork satisfied the criteria set by the relevant EC regulations and Cites.
Mr Borg is so obsessed with the tiger’s well-being that he brought its trainer with him to Malta to guide him on caring for his new pet. The tiger has settled in her new environs and whenever there are no clients, Mr Borg lets Lentika roam into his office where she contentedly sleeps sprawled at his feet, like an oversized cat.
Tigers, he says, are mostly solitary creatures and when Lentika grows, Mr Borg plans to move her to a bigger place; he is just awaiting the green light from Mepa to proceed.
Several animal lovers have expressed concern about whether the tiger has adequate space, but Mr Borg insists the premises are just right. Moreover, its new quarters will be designed under a vet’s guidance to ensure all EU standards are met.
In the meantime, the tiger has ample territory for play and after she has been fed her protein for the day – three kilogrammes of chicken or pork depending on her appetite – she curls up and sleeps.
So what will he do when Lentika is a fully developed Bengal tiger weighing some 150 kilogrammes and eating several more kilos of meat?
“Well, we won’t be able to play with her the same way anymore because she will probably topple us over. But she will have all the space she needs to be happy and get the respect she deserves... and I’m taking all the precautions to ensure she never escapes,” he said.
Moving on into an adjacent den, he prepares food for his 14 monkeys – a healthy bowl of bananas, apples, grapes, carrots, tomatoes and kiwis. The curious mountain goat pokes its nose through the bars, where it lives happily with four wallabies (small kangaroos), peacocks and plenty of birds.
“I have no intention of opening this place up as a small zoo. I want to keep this as my hobby and not transform it into a business... otherwise they won’t be my pets anymore.”
Luckily, his family – partner Oksana, Dylan, 11, and three-year-old Yulia – share his passions, despite the daily chore of cleaning and feeding all the animals.