Animal rights? What a circus...

Unlike the ‘puddy-tat’ from Looney Toons – which invariably turned out to be a very REAL feline, by the name of ‘Shylveshter’ – the 2014 ‘ban on live-animal circuses’ turns out to be... well, illusory, at best

Speaking of ‘caged animals’, whose only purpose in life is to provide ‘endless entertainment for the masses’... does anyone remember Tweety Bird, from Looney Toons?

That’s right: the little yellow canary (with an egg-shell for a hat) who spent most of that series repeating the same old line:

“I tawt I taw a puddy-tat.... I DID! I DID!”

Well, it’s a predicament I sometimes find myself in too, you know. Just this morning, for instance, I was reading an article about the latest ‘circus animal’ that died in captivity in Malta – Dana the sea lion, to be precise: whose death was announced by the Mediterraneo Marine Park this week – and I was struck by a distinctly ‘Tweety-Birdish’ thought.

Only in my case, it went something like:

“Hang on a second. ‘I tawt I taw’ another article in the papers – around 10 years ago, as I recall – which announced that Malta had actually BANNED the use of live animals, in circuses like the Mediterraneo Marine Park...”

... and after a five-minute search on the Internet: I can even complete the entire quote for you. “I DID! I DID...!” It’s right here, in fact. On Wednesday 15 October 2014, Parliament unanimously approved amendments to the Animal Welfare Act,  which (among other things):

a) Provided a legal definition of the word ‘circus’ (namely, “any place where animals are introduced for the purpose of performance, manoeuvres [sic] and shows, or otherwise; and shall include any place where animals used in such circuses are kept or trained...”), and;

b) Expressly prohibited that sort of activity, in Malta and Gozo, with the words: “It shall not be lawful for any person to use animals for performances, exhibitions, shows, or for the training thereof in circuses...”

And on top of all that: the announcement itself was made with all the usual ‘self-congratulatory fanfare’ that one would expect, from a government that was keen to project itself as – to quote James J. Piscopo, from the Animal Welfare Ministry – ‘animal-friendly’.

“This legislation is just one of the latest steps we took to strengthen Animal Welfare,” Piscopo said on that occasion.

“After launching a consultation process, we felt it was time to ban the use of ALL SPECIES OF ANIMALS [my emphasis] in circuses, backed by a strong majority which made its voice heard during the consultation process. Even the promotion or advertisement of animal circuses in Malta will now be restricted. I can assure you that my government is determined to continue transforming Malta into an animal-friendly country through the legal and infrastructural changes needed...”

But, oh well. That, I’m sorry to say, is where all previous resemblance to ‘Tweety-Bird’ comes to a sudden, and very emphatic... ‘That’s All, Folks!’

For unlike the ‘puddy-tat’ from Looney Toons – which invariably turned out to be a very REAL feline, by the name of ‘Shylveshter’ – the 2014 ‘ban on live-animal circuses’ turns out to be... well, illusory, at best.

Not, mind you, just because of the continued existence of at least one establishment – the aforementioned ‘Mediterraneo Marine Park’, in Bahar Ic-Caghaq – that could almost be described as a text-book example, of precisely the sort of ‘circus’ that was supposedly banned, in this country, almost a full decade ago...

... but it does remain perhaps the best example of the lot; so may as well start there.

Now: this morning I took the trouble of reading through the entire Animal Welfare Act, to see if those 2014 amendments actually included any form of exception in the case of ‘marine wildlife’... anything, in a nutshell, that could possibly be interpreted to justify the continued exploitation of animals such as ‘sea-lions’ (and ‘dolphins’,  for that matter), as ‘entertainment for the masses’.

And in case you were wondering, the short answer is: “No, they don’t”. It really is just like James Piscopo described, above. Malta’s 2014 ‘circus animal ban’ really does extend to cover ‘ALL SPECIES OF ANIMAL’ – no ‘exceptions’; no ‘ifs’; and no ‘buts’, either.

Except that... well, it doesn’t really, does it? In practice, all it means is that ‘traditional circuses’ can no longer force ‘land-animals’ (such as  lions, tigers, elephants, etc.), to perform ‘maonoeuvres’ (such as ‘jumping through hoops’, or ‘balancing balls on their heads’, or whatever)...

... but ‘aquatic animals’? Not only can those be legally made to perform EXACTLY the same sort of ‘circus-acts’, that would be illegal in the case of all their terrestrial counterparts... but establishments like Mediterraneo can still ‘advertise and promote their shows’, in clear defiance of the same ‘circus ban’... despite the fact that its activities correspond to absolutely every last detail, of the legal definition of ‘circus featuring live animals’, as quoted above.

All of which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that... what do you know? George Orwell has been spectacularly proven right, yet again!

On two counts, please note: firstly, because the experience of ‘Dana the sea-lion’ – not to mention the three (3) Mediterraneo dolphins that all somehow died within weeks of each other, back in 2021 – establishes, beyond shadow of doubt, that ‘some animals’ really ARE ‘more equal than others’...

... and secondly, because ‘some circus operators’ are likewise treated using an altogether different – and far more ‘generous’ – yardstick, than others (and a rather bizarre difference it is, too: ‘Lions? Absolutely not! Sea-lions? HECK, YEAH!’)

Doesn’t make very much sense, does it now? But that, I fear, is just the start.

Not content, it seems, with having already permitted a single CIRCUS – for let’s face it: there is no other to way to realistically describe the Mediterraneo Marine Park, is there? – to carry on exploiting live animals, in flagrant breach of the law, for almost an entire decade...

... the Maltese government is now clearly having second thoughts about its entire decision to ban ‘traditional’ circuses, in the first place!

Just a couple of weeks ago, in fact, animal rights activist Moira Delia sounded the alarm over yet another raft of ‘legal amendments’ that the government was surreptitously planning to introduce (without any ‘public consultation’, this time... and, even less, any ‘self-congratulatory fanfare’).

No, indeed. This time, we were told that: “the proposed amendments to the Animal Welfare Act will allow animals to be used as ‘EXTRAS [!] or PROPS [!!!] in artistic, theatrical and cinematic performances, sport competitions and any activities approved by the Veterinary Services Director...’”

... which would not only completely ‘nullify’ the entire purpose of those same 2014 amendments, at the stroke of a pen; but it would actually take us all the way back to a time – not that long ago – when ‘animals’ didn’t actually have any ‘rights’, in this country... AT ALL!

Or to put that another way: when animals were viewed as nothing more (or less) than mere ‘PROPS’... to be utilised in ‘theatrical performances’ – or, even worse, on a ‘film-set’ – only to be prompted discarded, when no longer of any practical use.

And just to give you a rough idea of the sort of ‘rights’ we’re actually talking about, here... remember that scene, towards the end of ‘Gone With the Wind’, in which Clark Gable and Vivienne Leigh escape from Atlanta, as the city is engulfed in flames...?

Well, what you’re REALLY seeing, ablaze in the background, is precisely the sort of fate that actually awaits a ‘film-prop’, in the real world. It’s actually the iconic ‘tribal village set’ from the 1933 movie ‘King Kong’ – complete with the colossal ‘gate’, that the titular ape smashes through halfway through that film – which, by 1939, had become an encumbrance, on the back-lot of RKO studios in Hollywood...

... so what did they do? Simple. They just ‘burnt it to the ground’ (and filmed it burning, for use in another movie...)

And THAT, in a nutshell, is precisely what the government evidently plans to do, to the same ‘live-animal circus ban’ it had so boastfully announced in 2014.

Just ‘burn it to the ground’... together with all its other previous claims, of being – and again, I quote - “a government determined to continue transforming Malta into an animal-friendly country, through the legal and infrastructural changes needed...”

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