The Malta Independent 9 December 2023, Saturday
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Life and other distractions: Animal Farm

Tuesday, 13 September 2022, 11:54 Last update: about 2 years ago

Louis Gatt

Until quite recently I had no really strong feelings about zoos.

And then I watched a TV documentary that blew the whole issue of captive wild animals wide open. We can even claim local relevance here in Malta, where, I understand, a similar facility also exists.

My first experience of seeing animals caged for the delectation of the general public occurred when, as a 10-year-old on a visit to London, my parents took me to the zoo at Regent's Park.  To be absolutely truthful, I loved every minute of it and never gave a thought to whether the animals in captivity were also having a ball, or feeling entrapped and depressed. It was much later when I visited Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, England that I altered my perspective. For a start Whipsnade stands in over 600 acres of countryside; there are few bars and space is certainly not at a premium. Animals have acres of the stuff to roam in and I never felt that any of them were constricted and in any way deprived. I do remember thinking that it was remarkable how easily some animals from tropical countries had adapted so well to the UK's cool, wet, temperate climate.


I felt back then, as indeed I do now, that if you are going to exhibit wild animals for the delectation of the general public, then Whipsnade's way is the right way. Ogling proud mountain gorillas or elephants in cramped, often insanitary cages or pens is not for anyone with a grain of compassion in them.

Some time back I was sipping a coffee in a village bar when I suddenly noticed a snout appear from between the feet of another customer seated nearby. The snout turned out to belong to a desert fox. I asked the owner, who had the creature tethered to the leg of his chair, from where he had obtained the animal. He replied that he bought it from a man in Libya. The poor thing, the fox not its owner, appeared thoroughly miserable and its fur was patchy and looked thoroughly uncared for. I asked the owner where he kept the fox at home. He replied that it had its own quarters... a hole beneath the outside staircase that he claimed was small: "So he don't hurt his-self, when he try to turn round eh." I've not seen the "hole" but I'll bet anything it won't be suitable accommodation for the poor animal.

Most of us will probably remember the householder, from Ghajnsielem I believe it was, who kept a puma at his home - and there are several more tales of a similar ilk. I really do think it is high time that legislation was enacted to protect both exotic animals and humans... before one or both gets badly hurt.


Our small community experienced a death last week. Nothing untoward, just the demise of a very old lady who has lived in the same house for her entire life. I'm sure her demise won't feature in the media and no "appreciation" will appear. But Maria will most definitely be well remembered by those who knew her.

She was a shy, understated lady who wanted nothing more than to bring up her large brood of children as decent, honest citizens. And this she has achieved in spades. A widow for some 15 years, she was so low profile I doubt if some of the newer members of our community even knew she existed. But we knew, so goodbye Maria, gone but definitely not forgotten.

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