A growing need to feed exotic big cats could be among the main reasons retired racehorses are being illegally slaughtered, sources told the Times of Malta.

Recent reports of horses being slaughtered in an unlicensed rural farm on the outskirts of Siġġiewi have also given rise to concerns that the meat could be making its way onto consumers’ plates.

However, sources in the equine sector said that, while they were certain some of the uncertified meat was being served to diners, the “major” buyers of this black market produce were believed to be the owners of big cats such as lions and tigers.

“There is a fellow, who most of us know, who slaughters retired racehorses for a few hundred euros and then sells the meat to people who have private zoos or who have, say, a tiger or a jaguar in their garden,” a veteran in the horse racing community said.

Read: 'Pails of blood' lead to raid on illegal abattoir

He admitted he, too, had been approached in the past by third parties offering to slaughter any racehorses he might have wanted to get rid of. “It’s crazy, I know, but this is Malta and you come across all sorts,” he added.

Law enforcement and Veterinary Department sources told the Times of Malta reports of irregular horse meat being sold to private zoos and smaller collectors of large cats had emerged in recent months and they had a rough idea of who could be behind it but no evidence or actual reports to go on.

A tiger or jaguar in their garden

The horse-owning community, they said, was close-knit and extracting specific information was no mean feat.

Furthermore, they continued, officers tasked with investigating such crimes complained they already had their plates full, handling other cases of crime involving wildlife and the environment. That said, the sources urged members of the public to come forward with any information that could shed light on the illegal practice.

The sources noted that the illegal slaughter of animals raised a series of health concerns, not only because of the questionable hygiene standards during the killing process but also because of the fact that racehorses were usually administered performance-enhancing drugs.

There are also concerns on how the horses are being killed, with the sources not discounting the possibility of bin bags being placed over the animals’ heads, fastening the bag with a rope at the neck and then let the horse choke to a painful death that could take several minutes.

About a decade ago an illegal slaughterhouse had been traced in the Swieqi valley when three men had been caught red-handed slitting the throat of a sheep.

Nine tanks filled with pigs’ heads were found a year later in a workshop that had been modified into a makeshift Qormi abattoir.

Nationalist MP Mario Galea last week blew the whistle on a number of suspected animal rights abuses, including the possible return of dog fighting.


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