The original draft legal notice on the Keeping of Wild Animals in Zoos Regulations that was uploaded to the government’s website, which read that the handling and petting of zoo animals will be banned, was “published erroneously”, a spokesperson for the Animal Rights Ministry said. “The correct version was uploaded within 24 hours”.
This “correct” version of the draft regulations states that: “animals or cubs can only be exposed to or handled by the public with the scope of petting or taking pictures or any other interactions, under the responsibility of the veterinarian responsible for the zoo.”
The overnight change in regulations has raised eyebrows due to certain noticeable contradictions between what is stated in the “correct” version of the draft legal notice and what the Minister himself had said prior to the proposed regulations being published for public consultation.
When asked by MaltaToday on 11 October of this year if the government is proposing to ban petting and handling of zoo animals in the new zoo regulations, Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo had replied in the affirmative, noting that these regulations were to be opened for public consultation from 13 till 25 October.
After almost a month of waiting, the draft regulations where finally uploaded to a government website on 9 November, clearly stating that; “no animal or cub will be exposed to or handled by the public with the scope of petting or taking pictures or any other interaction.”
However, 24 hours later, this version of the regulations was replaced with what the ministry said was the correct version.
The Malta Independent approached the ministry with a number of questions to better understand this sudden change of heart.
“The version uploaded on 9 November was an incorrect version which was published erroneously. This mistake was immediately remedied, and the correct version was uploaded within 24 hours,” the spokesperson for the ministry said.
This newsroom asked for the ministry to explain why this change was made without making it public, seeing that the banning of petting and handling of zoo animals by the public caused quite a commotion when it was first reported.
“The aim of the consultation is to introduce provisions to restrict access to dangerous, wild animals, in order to improve animal welfare and also safeguard against risks to human health and safety. For this reason, it is being proposed that animals or cubs can only be exposed to or handled by the public with the scope of petting or taking pictures or any other interaction, under the responsibility of the veterinarian responsible for the zoo to ensure that this does not compromise the normal mother/cub relationship or compromise the psychological integrity of the animal and the safety of the public.”
Asked for an explanation as to why the responsibility falls on the veterinarian of the zoo and not the zoo owners themselves, the spokesperson explained that a veterinary surgeon is better qualified to assess the psychological integrity of the animal and thus such decisions would be based on medical background and would not be subjective.
Nonetheless, it is a requirement under the proposed legislation that a zoo owner should be sufficiently knowledgeable as to the proper organisation and running of the establishment, in the proper handling of animals and must be able to satisfy their physiological and behavioural needs during their entire keeping.
The Malta Independent also asked if this was done in consultation with the Commissioner for Animal Welfare, if more changes to these regulations are to be expected and if the change was related to complaints made by zoo owners who had completely disagreed with the proposed ban. No answer was given in this regard.
The spokesperson noted that the draft legal notice is still under consultation and the public is being asked to review and provide feedback on the regulations by 9 December.