No legal action has been taken against the owners of 66 dangerous species who had failed to bring themselves in line with a 2016 law requiring their animals to be registered with the authorities.

An audit of the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Regulation Department by the National Audit Office last year found the Animal Welfare directorate, in particular, to be understaffed, lacking in qualified personnel and over-reliant on ageing employees.

Over the past years, Malta has experienced a proliferation in the ownership of dangerous animals and illegal zoos.

New legislation was pushed through after a five-year-old was mauled by a tiger at the Montekristo estate in 2015. Construction magnate Charles Polidano was cleared of responsibility after a botched prosecution failed to show he was running an illegal zoo.

The NAO noted how by last October, six owners of 66 dangerous animals had yet to bring themselves in line with the 2016 law. The owners were not named in the report.

When the law was first announced, then parliamentary secretary for animal welfare Roderick Galdes had said dangerous animals had to be registered within 90 days of the law coming into force.

The Veterinary Regulation directorate confirmed to the NAO that no legal action was taken against these owners, stating they were “slowly complying”.

It was acknowledged by the NAO that confiscation of dangerous species kept on illegal premises does carry limitations, including the wellbeing of the animals, a lack of resources at the department and the financial costs involved.

The NAO recommended, however, that that the department considers imposing fines on defaulting keepers to act as a deterrent.

Limitations were also found in the systems kept in place to record inspections carried out, making follow-up visits more difficult.

Data on keepers of dangerous species who did not regularise their position in 2016, when the new law came into force, could not be maintained on the system but was held separately by the respective sections.

The Veterinary Regulation directorate was found to be short of support officers who were to perform day-to-day functions.

Therefore, much of the administrative work was being undertaken by the veterinarians themselves.

The NAO said that officers in general or administration grades were transferred to another department without any replacement given. Veterinarians within this directorate were fully qualified, however, most of them were foreigners and were not able to communicate in the Maltese language; thus, at times they had communication problems with the public, the NAO said.  There was also a high employee turnover rate among foreign veterinarians who used the department simply to gain experience.

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