The Malta Independent 26 September 2016, Monday

The end of animal circuses: amendments to Animal Welfare Act pass final parliamentary vote

John Cordina Wednesday, 15 October 2014, 18:44 Last update: about 3 years ago

Parliament has approved a bill which prohibits the use of any animals in circuses in its third and final reading, putting an end to a practice that had grown increasingly controversial in past years.

The bill - which was approved unanimously - amends the Animal Welfare Act, and its provisions extend beyond simply prohibiting circuses.

Other amendments include harsher criminal sanctions against those who are found guilty of animal cruelty - including a maximum jail term of three years, compared to the current 1-year maximum. Maximum fines - previously €30,000 for first offences and €50,000 for subsequent convictions - have also been revised upwards, to €55,000 for first offenders and to €80,000 in any other case.

The bill also provides for the establishment of the office of Director for Animal Welfare and a Commissioner for Animal Welfare, whilst aiming to strengthen enforcement powers and better define the powers of animal welfare officers.

But the provisions banning animal circuses have arguably attracted the most attention.

In recent years, animal rights organisations across the globe have stepped up their campaigning against the use of animals - particularly wild animals - in circuses, arguing that cruel practices are often used to train animals to perform in circus acts.

Circus promoters have regularly brought animal circuses to Malta, but in recent years, these have routinely been met by protests.

A number of countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses or are in the process of doing so, whilst a smaller number has opted to ban the use of any animal. Bolivia was the first country to ban the use of all animals in 2009, and Greece was the first European country to do so three years later.

In the end, Malta has opted to follow the lead of Bolivia and Greece: the bill states that "it shall not be lawful for any person to use animals for performances, exhibitions, shows or for the training thereof in circuses," making no distinction between wild animals and domesticated ones.

The bill explicitly states that the provisions relating to animal circuses do not apply to licensed zoos.

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