The increasing number of tigers in Malta are at risk of being traded illegally, an investigation by an international animal rights charity has found.
A report by Four Paws International said it was concerned about the quantity of big cats on the island after its representatives counted 40 tigers in a recent visit.
“The high number of big cats, especially tigers, indicates intensive breeding and trade,” the report reads.
“Legal tiger trade is often intertwined with illegal tiger trade, which could easily be happening in Malta as well.”
Trade in wild tigers, which are endangered, is banned in the EU but trading tigers born in captivity is not.
Representatives of the Austrian-based animal welfare group compiled the report during a visit in August.
They counted 40 tigers in Malta but noted that they were not given access to big cats being kept privately.
Trading tigers born in captivity is not banned
Their report, which was shared with the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, Clint Camilleri, made a series of recommendations including a ban on breeding and on interactions between visitors and tigers in zoos.
It also pointed out that there are no sanctuaries in Malta for wildlife, meaning that, when a zoo or private owner cannot take care of his animals, there is nowhere for them to go.
A spokesman said the organisation also shares the concerns of the Malta Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (MSPCA) on existing policy on the welfare of wildlife in Malta.
“Four Paws is against uncontrolled breeding, commercial trade and poor keeping conditions of wildlife,” he said.
Last week, the MSPCA called for a ban on wildlife breeding in captivity and for the introduction of compulsory de-sexing in Malta’s zoos and private collections.
The call was issued in response to The Sunday Times of Malta reporting a tripling of tigers and lack of breeding management at the Mtaħleb animal park.
Commissioner for Animal Welfare Dennis Montebello also said that breeding wildlife is “not recommended” and should only be allowed where it is absolutely justified in accordance with rules around repopulating and reintroducing species into the wild.
“Interest in wildlife breeding is not as unprofitable as one might be led to believe – wild animals do have their own special value and demand from Far Eastern countries, especially for wild cat cubs, is still there,” Dr Montebello said.
A spokesman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights did not respond to questions by Times of Malta regarding its views on banning wildlife breeding in Malta.
He said that the Mtaħleb animal park was a fully licensed zoo, and that legislation regarding zoos did not prohibit breeding.