UPDATED Sunday - The unlicensed animal park in Montekristo was closed down by its owners today after a tiger severely injured a young boy yesterday.

"Due to the current unforeseen circumstances the management has decided to close the animal park at montekristo with immediate effect," the owners said.

The three-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when a tiger lashed out at him at an illegal zoo in Ħal-Farrug yesterday afternoon (Saturday).

The police said the tiger was on a leash and accompanied by two handlers when it lashed out at the boy at the Montekristo animal park. The boy was with by a 56-year-old man from Zabbar who did his utmost to keep the tiger away from the boy. The incident took place between the cafeteria and the carousel at 4.30pm.

He was rushed to hospital in an ambulance where he was found to be suffering serious injuries but was not in critical condition. 

A hospital source said the boy suffered lacerations to his face and head and will undergo emergency intervention in the coming hours. 

He will probably need plastic surgery

"He will probably need plastic surgery," the source said. 

A spokesman for the zoo told timesofmalta.com the incident happened when the two handlers were walking the "friendly" tiger, which they had raised, outside its cage since it had been slightly unwell. The tiger was lying on the floor when the incident happened. Upon seeing the animal, the boy ran towards it, prompting the tiger to raise its paws, lashing the child in the face in the process, the spokesman said. 

"At no point did the tiger bite the boy."

The police are carrying out interviews with witnesses and the two handlers who were monitoring the tiger.

Montekristo Estates is owned by the Polidano Group and the vast expanse of land at Ħal Farruġ is riddled with illegal development.

The zoo which is not covered by permits, and which has been slapped with several enforcement notices, hosts over 60 different species that benefit from international protection under Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Last April, Times of Malta reported that lions, tigers and other big cats at the Montekristo Animal Park are still kept in inadequately sized enclosures two years after construction magnate Charles Polidano, known as iċ-Ċaqnu, was served with a first written warning.

This afternoon's incident has sparked renewed calls on social media for the authorities to clamp down on the illegalities.

In a statement, the government said it took action since the zoo was operating illegally. While the animals had been transferred to suitable cages, the present structures were still facing a daily fine. 

The government said it had issued a legal notice which stipulated that no exotic animals may be imported without the necessary permits. It urged the police to investigate the case and take the necessary action against those responsible.

AD REACTION - 'THE RULE OF LAW IS COLLAPSING'

In a reaction, the chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika, Arnold Cassola said this was just another in a series of accidents which was showing that the rule of law was rapidly collapsing in our country.

"The country is being run by unelected business people acting illegally and not by our elected representatives. We have had Paqpaqli a few weeks ago, Paceville two weeks ago, now this at Polidano's illegal complex. We are no longer interested in crocodile tears by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil, whose parties in government failed to act effectively against the rampant illegalities by the Polidano Group. Who is going to shoulder political responsibility and resign? Is the President of the Republic going to hold events at this illegal site?," Prof Cassola asked. 

INCIDENT CAME ONE YEAR AFTER SHAM CLAMP-DOWN

Environment NGOs Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth and Ramblers observed that this incident took place exactly a year after Works Department employees, together with Armed Forces of Malta and police personnel descended upon the Montekristo estate, supposedly to demolish illegally-built structures.

"This enforcement action turned out to be a sham – not only are the majority of the Montekristo abusive structures still standing but the illegal zoo is still operating as a profit-making commercial venture. The fact that innumerable political gatherings, state-sponsored events and even a national commercial fair are held at Charles ‘Ic-Caqnu’ Polidano’s Montekristo Estate - described by MEPA as the country’s “largest illegal development” - is a sad reflection on our politicians’ lack of ethics," they said. 

"FAA, FoE and Ramblers reiterate their calls that the illegal Montekristo zoo infringes international standards of animal care and should be immediately shut down with the animals relocated to facilities that meet international conventions on animal care.

"It is utterly deplorable that such illegalities are allowed to continue, year in year out. What message does it send to the public? Are indeed ' some animals more equal than others?', to keep the Orwellian Animal Farm analogy?"

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