The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Animal welfare: Impact assessment should prioritise care of animals, not zoos – Moira Delia

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 28 November 2021, 08:00 Last update: about 7 months ago

An impact assessment that is currently underway should prioritise the care of animals, and not the zoos themselves, animal rights activist Moira Delia told The Malta Independent on Sunday in an interview.

Recently in Parliament, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights, Anton Refalo, revealed that the report for an Impact Assessment on zoos in Malta will be released in the coming weeks, which will announce the strengthening of regulations on zoos. Refalo said the impact assessment spoke mainly with zoo owners.

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Delia emphasised that there should be more regulations on these zoos, particularly favouring the quality of life of animals. She stated that not a single conservation programme occurs within these zoos, as the animals are sold abroad. Despite the supposed impact assessment, Delia noted that zoos are not the natural environment of a wild animal; they should not be confined in cages, nor moved around with a chain. “This is not the future of these animals,” she said. She insisted that there should be open parks where the animals can freely roam around.

She quoted the Animal Welfare organisation, Four Paws International, in saying that there is a large number of wild animals in Malta, and the number of tigers compared to the space we have in Malta, is too large.

She insisted that the impact assessment should prioritise the care of animals, and not the zoos. Delia revealed also that there is no control or monitoring of the animal once it is exported abroad.

Moreover, she mentioned that not even the Animal Welfare Commissioner had been asked to participate in the impact assessment, and so, she questioned, who is participating?

When asked whether zoos should be closed permanently, Delia disagreed with the total closure of these facilities for the simple reason that the animals will be the ones to suffer. She said that to close the zoos completely would ensure their death. On the question regarding stricter laws on the importation of exotic animals, Delia said that the issue is not being treated seriously and there needs to be stricter laws, as well as monitoring on the animals which are imported, as well as exported.

Following a surprising influx of people supporting zoos, particularly families with children who visit these zoos for personal enjoyment, zoo owners and politicians, who support these zoos, see a reason to continue making profits. Delia admitted that there are individuals who hold certain power, particularly in the case of Alison Bezzina, Commissioner for Animal Welfare, who was threatened after speaking out against the keeping of exotic animals.

“You have to have a spine for these things, to speak out for what you believe in,” said Delia, speaking out as a voice for animals. She noted that when things are done right and devoutly, not for the sake of votes from the public, then the interests of animals are met.

Delia rebutted the question on the famous argument zookeepers tend to make – that an animal which has been domesticated cannot be returned into the wild, by asking, “would you trust yourself in a cage with a hungry animal?” There are instances where wild animals attack humans despite being “domesticated”, and so, the animal remains wild, commented Delia.

She expressed that she has seen programmes with long processes of rehabilitation back into the wild, however, if this cannot be done, for an animal to remain confined in a cage is not the alternative.

She added that children should not be exposed to caged animals, but rather should be exposed to the animal in its true habitat, where they are free to roam about in their true state. She added that serious research must be done before visiting sanctuaries abroad, to ensure that the animal is truly in their natural state.

Asked about the state of improvement of the Animal Welfare Department in Malta, Delia mentioned the current director and team, whom she described as one of the best the department has ever had.

Delia praised the director as one who pinpoints the problem and tackles it from its root, with a clear plan and strategy on how to continue to better the Animal Welfare programme.

Puppy farms have sadly been a recurrent problem in Malta, where numerous confiscations have been occurring in as little time as a month. While work is being done for these overbred and abused dogs to be removed from the neglectful and outright cruel environment they find themselves in, Delia pointed out that there is still a lack of resources.

The shortage of pens and sanctuaries, where these dogs can be kept until they find a home, is evident and the existing ones are increasingly becoming full. There is a pressing need for larger environments to keep these animals while the department investigates the problem at its core, said Delia.

€125,000 has been allocated towards the neutering of animals as the agenda for animal welfare has now increased in importance on a national basis, she said.

“A big step forward,” replied Delia on the law that dictates that should someone be found guilty of animal abuse, then that person cannot keep animals. She expects these cases to be taken seriously, describing those who abuse an animal as a “danger to society, as these individuals can also be a danger to humans”.

Talking about private keepers of wild animals, she emphasised that the public must speak out, as “having a puma on one’s roof is not normal, incites fear and puts the public’s safety in danger”. She was speaking about a case of a puma being kept on a residential roof in Fgura.

Malta’s animal rights laws will soon be amended to make bestiality illegal, making sexual relations with an animal punishable by up to three years in prison and liable to fines of between €2,000 and €6,000.

Delia, while answering that it always could have been done earlier, remained positive that the law is a step in the right direction to eradicate animal cruelty, commenting that the process for the law to be amended was relatively short compared to others. She also proposed an additional law with regards to breeders, suggesting more control to those who breed, while emphasising on the importance of holding a license with regulations for them to follow.

On the Maltese tradition of horse-drawn carriages (karozzini), she replied that more respect should be shown towards these animals, arguing that during Maltese summers, not even humans can bear the excruciating summer days. She questioned why one should expect the horses to do so. She appealed for the coachmen of these horses to be more responsible about the regulation that bans horses from being out in hot summer afternoons.

“Illegal hunting is still happening despite the current regulations,” said Delia on the hunting of birds.

She went on to say that these birds are not even given the chance to breed so that we have more birds, but rather they are being hunted instantly. She insisted that the laws regarding hunting should be further enforced.

Responding to the question of whether there should be a second referendum regarding spring hunting, Delia said that she hopes that politicians do not interfere and let the public make their own decision and vote based on facts and studies.

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