Some animals really are ‘more equal than others’, after all…

Indeed, we have become so accustomed to this same syndrome, that a local expression has even evolved to describe it. Sadly, however, it is not quite what you would call ‘beautiful’… or ‘graceful’… or ‘majestic’… or (least of all) ‘elegant’… 

Before we get started, though… let’s a try a quick psychological test.

Take a good look at the animal in the accompanying picture; then tell me the first adjectives that you would use to physically describe it.

Let’s see, now… ‘Beautiful’? Yes, that is in fact the first word that sprang to my mind, too (and just look at me: a picture of ‘psychological health’, if there ever was one…) What else? ‘Graceful?’ Oh, absolutely. And the same goes for ‘elegant’; ‘majestic’; ‘impressive’… and all the other synonyms you’re probably looking up on your online thesaurus, even as we speak.  

For there can be no real doubt about it, can there? Unless you happen to be one of those people who just ‘hates cats’, for no particular reason – in which case, you obviously need urgent psychiatric help anyway - there are only so many ways you could possibly react, to such an exquisitely gorgeous specimen of the Felidae Family. 

And it’s precisely the same way you’d react to, say, a ‘cute little baby’; or pretty much anything else, that automatically elicits ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘awws’ from its suitably besotted beholders (in other words: the human equivalent of ‘purring in delight’…)

Ah, but how many of you took one look at that picture, and immediately thought to yourselves: ‘DANGER?’ And not just the sort of ‘danger’ you might justifiably associate with any old domestic cat, either (for let’s face it: all cats have ‘sharp pointy teeth’, and ‘retractable claws’…  and even the tiniest, most adorable little kitten is – in theory, at any rate - perfectly capable of ‘scratching your eyes out’, if it really set its mind to it…)

No, I’m talking about the type of primeval fear you would – again, justifiably – associate with much larger, and more potentially-homicidal members of the same Felidae Family: like lions, and tigers…  (You know: the other ‘big, dangerous cats’ that we all know are being held in captivity – and in large numbers, too – ‘somewhere’ on these islands…).

Reason I ask is that… well, in case you were wondering: the feline in the picture belongs to a particular breed known as the ‘Savannah Cat’ – not, I hasten to add, the same specimen that was in the local news, recently…  but the same breed, nonetheless. 

And that is to say: it is a very, VERY dangerous animal indeed… if you happen to be, for instance, a rodent, a rabbit, a lizard, or (especially) a very small bird… 

In terms of how much ‘danger’ a Savannah Cat may realistically pose to human beings, on the other hand… well, let’s just say that it is no more, or less, ‘dangerous’ than your next-door neighbour’s Cocker Spaniel (and probably a heck of a lot ‘safer’, than some of the other medium-sized dogs roaming around your locality, right now…) 

So, yes: it is no doubt perfectly capable of using those ‘sharp pointy teeth’ and ‘retractable claws’ to inflict some degree of ‘damage’… and I, for one, would certainly be wary of getting too close to a live, uncaged specimen: whether it displays ‘aggressive behaviour’, or not…

But, well, that’s about the full extent of the ‘threat’ posed by this extraordinary creature, to human life and limb. And already, it can be seen to be a whole lot less to worry about, than the very real danger posed by a few other ‘household pets’ in this country… including, naturally, all those ‘lions and tigers’ I mentioned earlier; but also, a wide variety f (often potentially lethal) venomous reptiles, arachnids and even fish (!) that are currently on sale, perfectly legally, at a ‘pet-shop somewhere near you’…

In any case, however: there is, of course, a reason why the ‘Savannah Cat’ was mentioned in the local news, this week – but not, strangely, all those other ‘dangerous pets’ that we also know about. It’s basically because the proud owner of a single specimen found himself arrested, prosecuted (and eventually acquitted) for contravening the – wait for it – ‘Owning and Keeping of Dangerous Animals Regulations’ (!!).

In other words: because the local law-enforcement authorities took one look at the felid in the above photo… and instead of seeing the same ‘beautiful’, ‘graceful’, and ‘majestic’ animal that we all so recently ‘oohed’ and ‘awwed’ at, ourselves… they saw the equivalent of a ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’; a creature so very ‘menacing’, that they even felt the need to intervene – and quite drastically too, if it comes to it – for the sake of the local community’s safety… 

… in other words: they reacted to that single, solitary specimen of (mostly harmless) ‘Savannah Cat’, in EXACTLY the same way as they should have reacted to those lions, tigers and bears… but, unaccountably, never did...

And this, please note, at a time when:

a) There seems to be no evidence whatsoever, that this ‘Savannah Cat’ ever so much as even ‘hissed’ at anyone (the court experts themselves testified that it “showed no signs of dangerous or aggressive temperament”);

b) There is no apparent history – locally, or even internationally – of any serious injuries (still less, fatalities) regularly inflicted by this breed on human beings… and much the same could also be said for its wild progenitor, the ‘Serval Cat’: which is about as dangerous as its closest European equivalent, the Lynx… (and be honest, now: when’s the last time you heard of anyone ever being ‘attacked by a Lynx’, anywhere in the entire world?); 

c) All recorded ‘big cat attacks’ in Malta, so far - and there have been at least four in the last seven years: three on humans, and one on a dog - have involved much larger, and far more eminently dangerous, felids than this one;

d) We also know (thanks to the same 2020 Parliamentary Question I quoted a couple of weeks ago) that, out of a total of 64 – let me repeat that: SIXTY-FOUR – tigers known to be currently held in captivity, in Malta… around 14 [FOURTEEN!] were, at the time, ‘unregistered’. (Yet I, for one, never heard of any of their owners being ‘arrested and prosecuted’, for breaching the ‘Owning and Keeping of Dangerous Animals Regulations’… did you?) And lastly, most incredible of all;

d) After all this hullaballoo, it turns out that this ‘Savannah Cat’ was not even officially listed as a ‘Dangerous Animal’ in the first place! A fact which not only explains, at a glance, why the owner was acquitted, in the end… but which also raises a few slightly uncomfortable questions of its own, doesn’t it?

I mean… just pause to consider the wider implications, for a moment. These are, after all, the same authorities who routinely look the other way, when ‘certain people’ are permitted to not only own animals as manifestly dangerous, as… lions and tigers, no less! (both of which, I need hardly add, certainly ARE included on that list); but also to exploit those majestic creatures for their own (illegal) enrichment… and even to breed them, in the comfort of their own private ‘zoos’ (you know: just to guarantee a steady supply of ‘illegal, dangerous animals’, in future…)

Yet the same authorities suddenly come down on you like a tonne of bricks, for the grave crime of owning a ‘rather large’ (and, at the risk of repetition, ‘exquisitely beautiful’) DOMESTIC CAT (even though there is no actual law against owning that particular species, to begin with…)

Sorry, but… by that reasoning, what’s stopping them from arresting every single owner, of every single dog that just happens to be ‘moderately larger than Chihuahua’?  After all, those pets pose just as much danger to humans as that Savannah Cat ever did… and besides, they’re just as perfectly legal to own, too! 

So… um… if we’re going to start arresting any old random pet-owner, over animals that aren’t even ‘illegal to own’, anyway… why limit ourselves only to ‘exotic members of the Felidae Family’? Why not (literally) go the whole hog… and arrest all of Malta’s farmers and animal-breeders, too? (Note: I can assure you all that, on a global level, far more people are killed each year by farmyard animals– including bulls, cows, horses, goats, and even pigs – than by all the ‘big cats’ in the world, put together…)

But in any case: I could, of course, go on about the sheer nonsensicality of this latest charade; but that, I fear, would be to miss the point entirely. 

Because let’s face it: we all know perfectly well, why the authorities chose to take such spectacularly pointless action, in this particular case… but then, ignore the all the other, widely-known cases, which really DO pose a ‘danger to human life and limb’.

It’s the exact same reason why regulators like the Planning Authority likewise only ever clamp down on all the ‘minor’ contraventions – you know: ‘illegal boathouses’, and so on – while simultaneously sanctioning even the most heinous environmental crimes known to Man… so long, of course, as they are committed by ‘certain people’. (‘Certain people’, I need hardly add, who are continually protected by a ‘certain State’…)

Indeed, we have become so accustomed to this same syndrome, that a local expression has even evolved to describe it. Sadly, however, it is not quite what you would call ‘beautiful’… or ‘graceful’… or ‘majestic’… or (least of all) ‘elegant’… 

No, it’s: ‘being strong with the weak, and weak with the strong’. And, let’s admit it, folks: it’s every bit as ugly as that other expression we have likewise grown so accustomed to, of late: ‘some animals are more equal than others’…