The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: Proposed regulations - Wild animals belong in the wild

Thursday, 29 October 2020, 10:47 Last update: about 2 months ago

The government recently announced draft laws that will ban the petting of wild animals and introduce new regulations for zoos and the keeping of exotic pets.

This is a welcome move, and one which follows up on other measures introduced in past years, including the banning of animal circuses.

Great advances have been made on animal welfare over the past few years, even though some of the rules that have been put in place are not properly enforced. The draft rules announced by animal rights minister Anton Refalo, however, do not only require proper enforcement, but also education.

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We say this because the handful of wildlife ‘zoos’ that have sprouted up over the island over the past few years remain very popular with Maltese families. It has become the norm to see several Facebook posts over the weekend of families, particularly those with small children, petting some tiger or lion cub at these establishments. It has become something of a social media trend, in fact.

Many people, it seems, do not understand that such wild animals belong in the wild, and not in some cramped enclosure sweltering under the hot Maltese sun. Some might argue that these animals were bred in captivity and would not survive in the wild. But the fact remains that these are species that were not intended for domestication, and this is not their natural habitat.

Zoos, particularly the small and amateurish ones found in Malta, cannot serve as a pretext for conservation. Real conservation must be done on the ground, in the countries and continents where these species originated from.

These businesses also cannot operate on the excuse that our young children will likely never get a chance to see these majestic animals in their natural environment. The world and its creatures and wonders should be explored and enjoyed right where they are, not shipped halfway around the globe for our viewing pleasure.

Another reason often cited by zoo owners to defend their businesses is the so-called ‘therapeutic’ effects that one can benefit from when petting these animals. Not only tiger and bear cubs can give you that effect – so can dogs, cats, horses and all other sorts of domesticated animals. So please, let us cut the crap.

Studies have shown that animals that are bred and kept in captivity often suffer from health and mental problems. They also become too dependent on human interaction.

It is sad to note that, while the proposed regulations speak about many forms of big cats, as well as bears and seals, they do not refer to dolphins and other forms of marine life that are made to live and die in concrete thanks after spending their lives pleasing the crowds.

We are not saying that animals that are currently being kept in captivity should be released into the wild, for they would surely not survive. But we would go a step further from what the government is proposing and say that exotic animals should neither be allowed to be kept as pets nor as zoo attractions.

Wild animals are not there for our enjoyment. They serve an important role in the world’s eco-system, and we know all too well what happens when man plays with nature.

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