Updated 4.30pm

A duck that was confiscated by the police following allegations of animal abuse at a Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq circus, has been returned to its owner. 

The incident occurred on December 22, with police confirming to Times of Malta that they responded to a call at the Cirkella Circus in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq. 

Following an assessment of the incident, police confiscated the bird on the same day. It was handed over to the Animal Welfare Services, a police spokesperson confirmed. An investigation by the Veterinary Regulation Directorate was also launched. 

On the day, the police were responding to a call by content creator Sarah Grech, who later posted on Instagram detailing the extent of the duck’s involvement in the circus show, which was widely circulated online. 

However, late on Thursday Times of Malta was informed that the duck was returned to its owners, and it remains unclear whether the case will be referred for any further action.

The use of animals in circuses has been banned in Malta since 2014. 

The duck, sources said, has been examined by a veterinarian and discharged.

Prior to its return, the owner was made to pay for the vet bills, sources said.

For authorities to hold on to a confiscated animal, charges must be filed against its owners. If no such charges are filed then the animal must be returned.

'Duck thrown at audience'

According to Grech, the duck was thrown at the audience a number of times. 

“Each time the duck hit the metal stands or the stone floor, it struggled to move before being grabbed and launched into the air again,” she said. 

“People look at me as if I’m rude or absurd for simply not being entertained by a duck being suffocated in a smoking box and then being thrown around for enjoyment. As if it’s not an intelligent species capable of feeling pain, experiencing emotions and responding to their environment.” 

Commissioner for Animal Welfare Alison Bezzina has made a public appeal urging anyone who had footage of the incident or who had actually witnessed it to come forward. 

“Any audience members that may have attended the Cirkella Circus show on 22nd December and has video footage of a live animal being used as part of an act, please contact our office,” she said.

“Even if you do not have footage but witnessed the incident and would be ready to testify about what you saw, please get in contact.”

According to its promotional material, the circus is being organised by Splash and Fun park and the Spanish circus artist group La Gondola Rossa. 

Despite the incident, the performance was advertised as animal-free.

While animal circuses are banned in Malta, a loophole in the law exempts holders of a zoo license from the prohibition. 

While Splash and Fun does not have a zoo license, its sister company, Mediterraneo, does and under this licence it keeps a number of bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, macaws and various reptiles. 

The Mediterraneo Marine Park has itself been embroiled in controversy as animal rights activists have accused it of running a dolphin circus by proxy for demonstrations in which dolphins are “forced to perform unnatural tricks”. 

In July, news emerged that three dolphins at the park had died the year before and their deaths had not been publicly disclosed. Times of Malta later revealed that the deaths had occurred due to lead poisoning

Mediterraneo has denied accusations that it is running a circus and insists its dolphin shows are “not cruel” and “natural”. 

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