Zoo regulations U-turn: Draft rules changed after 24 hours to allow petting of wild animals

On 9 November draft rules for zoos banned the petting of cubs but a day later this was changed with no explanation as the public consultation is still open

Draft zoo regulations that would have banned the petting of cubs were changed just 24 hours later to allow the lucrative practice to continue.

The regulations were officially released for public consultation on 9 November and the petting of cubs and touching of wild animals by visitors was expressly banned.

However, a day later, the draft was amended to allow the practice as long as this was carried out under the supervision of the zoo’s vet.

The public consultation on the draft Legal Notice on the Keeping of Wild Animals in Zoos Regulations is open until 7 December and yet the government website gives no explanation as to why the change was done.

The proposed regulations plan to overhaul the 2003 rules that apply for zoos.

READ ALSO: New zoo regulations are out for public consultation at last

The petting of cubs is a staple attraction in local zoos, with visitors paying up to €100 for a family private viewing with the wild animals. Such viewings also include taking photos with the cubs and holding them.

Marine parks also allow for visitors to swim with dolphins at their facilities.

Zookeepers riled against the new rules when they were first released and Labour politicians Alex Agius Saliba and Clayton Bartolo posted on their social media accounts photos of themselves petting tiger cubs.

What changed?

The first draft on 9 November banned petting

Regulation 4(8) stated: “The zoo keeper will be responsible for the health and welfare of the animals under his care. For this reason, 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, since this may compromise the normal mother/cub relationship and may also compromise the psychological integrity of the animal and the safety of the public.”

24 hours later petting was re-introduced with conditions

The regulation now reads: “The zoo keeper will be responsible for the health and welfare of the animals under his care. For this reason, 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 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.”

Screenshot of the government public consultation website showing the update on 10 November
Screenshot of the government public consultation website showing the update on 10 November

Meanwhile, animal welfare lobby group Time for Change has called out the change, and asked whether this was the result of pressure from zoo keepers. 

“The petting of wild animals has no conservation benefits whatsoever and has very serious consequences for animal welfare. Petting a wild animal is not the same as petting a dog or a cat…This is simply a gimmick used by zoos to generate profits,” it said. 

During the initial announcement of the public consultation, the Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo told MaltaToday that the practice would be banned. 

The public consultation was initially announced on the 12 October but was delayed because of the budget, according to the ministry. 

The amendments also propose the breeding of wild animals be made illegal, unless exempted by the directorate for veterinary services.

Exemptions, which will need to be listed and specified by the directorate, will include breeding for conservation and scientific purposes.

Animals in zoos must also be neutered.

READ ALSO: Petting of tiger cubs at zoos to become illegal under proposed changes

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