Just under 400 wild animals are known to be kept in captivity in Malta, the Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo told parliament on Monday. 

Refalo provided a list of 397 wild animals which included animals which are unregistered but known to authorities. He was answering a parliamentary question asked by Opposition MP Mario Galea. 

In his reply, the minister also noted that there are 14 individuals registered to keep ‘dangerous’ animals in Malta, defined as animals whose ability to cause injury means that they need to be kept in zoos or private collections while conforming to regulations.

The list points towards a marked preference for big cats, with a total of 64 tigers, 20 lions, 11 leopards and 24 pumas topping the list as the biggest populations of wild species.

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Less commonly sought-after animals include 16 fallow deers, 10 pygmy goats, and primates such as the babarbary macaque (13) and green monkeys (23).

The information was revealed amid a heated discussion between NGOs, zoo stakeholders and government legislators over the regulation of private zoos in Malta.

In November of this year, the agriculture ministry launched the public consultation process with the intent of finalising a regulatory framework for the industry.

But the proposed new rules immediately sparked consternation from animal welfare NGOs after they were amended within 24 hours to allow for the petting of wild cubs. No explanation was given for the sudden U-turn.

The consultation period for the proposed new laws closed on Monday, December 7.

The regulations propose that a dangerous animal must be registered as such and cannot be exhibited before doing so. Applicants must also prove that they have adequate space and training to handle the animal and provide for its basic needs. Captive breeding is also out of the question unless conducted for research and conservation purposes.

Activists have been critical of the proposals, saying they do little to safeguard against animal exploitation because ultimately zoo-owners are still allowed to use animals for photo-ops and other commercial interests.

On Tuesday, political party ADPD said it also disagreed with the draft law. 

"As things stand, so-called ‘zoos’ in Malta are merely a veneer over money-making enterprises or vanity projects in which the welfare of the animals is of secondary importance,” said ADPD deputy chairperson Mark Zerafa. 

“That these private collections of wild animals are vanity projects and the new status symbols for some people. As such the aim of government should be the phasing out of private collections of wild animals and not their encouragement through regulations which give a veneer of acceptability to such private projects,” he said. 

 

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