The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

‘I am against the opening of more zoos’ – Anton Refalo

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 12 December 2021, 08:30 Last update: about 6 months ago

Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo has told The Malta Independent on Sunday that he is personally “against the opening of more zoos”. In comments given to this newsroom, Refalo also insisted that an ongoing impact assessment on animal parks will reach out to animal rights NGOs and officials.

Refalo recently told Parliament there will be an impact assessment regarding zoos, where there will be an evaluation on the social, environmental and economical impact on the rearing of wild animals in the current zoo establishments. Refalo also mentioned that the main contact done would be with zoo owners and the authorities involved in the implementation of the law.

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Following the announcement, animal rights activist Moira Delia told The Malta Independent that not even the Animal Welfare Commissioner was asked to participate in the impact assessment, at least in the initial stages and questioned who exactly was participating.

There is a pending problem with too many wild animals being kept in Malta. As of last year, Times of Malta reported almost 400 wild animals being held in captivity, 64 of which being tigers, the largest population topping the list. Delia quoted the Animal Welfare organisation, Four Paws International, in confirming that the number of tigers we have in Malta is too large.

The Minister for Animal Rights told this newsroom that the existing zoos should remain in operation, however, he is personally against the opening of a new facility.

The zoos should remain operational solely for the safety of the animal as the wild animal, which has been domesticated, cannot be returned into the wild, Refalo said. He added that the animal has lost its wild instinct and must be cared for accordingly.

Delia had presented opposing views regarding this statement, saying that there are countless accidents where a wild animal in a zoo, which is supposedly domesticated, has attacked humans. Therefore, the wild “instinct” remains, she said. Delia had added that the alternative should be a programme of rehabilitation into the wild.

Refalo said that the impact assessment has reached its final stages and will soon continue with public consultation. He stated that it will include the interests of animals, as well as the interests of the stakeholders involved. The interests of the animals will be given special attention, said Refalo.

The Malta Independent asked the minister why the Animal Welfare Commissioner as well as other animal rights NGOs were not consulted or asked to participate in the impact assessment on zoos.

“We consult everybody,” replied Refalo, adding that the impact assessment might not have yet reached the stage of certain consultations. He said that it is of importance that everyone is consulted.

“The problem in this sector is that one cannot regard zoos as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ matter,” said Refalo. The six existing zoos in Malta are not the same and therefore they should not have the same regulations. “It is important that we proceed with equity,” said Refalo, referring to the law.

Refalo said that a just law needs to be made, which first and foremost prioritises the welfare of animals in the zoos.

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