[WATCH] Refalo unable to commit to zoo rules, 18 months after consultation hits snag

Zoo rules for unregulated Maltese exotic animal enclosures still in the making 18 months on as minister unveils yet another consultation process

Agriculture minister Anton Refalo
Agriculture minister Anton Refalo
Zoo rules still in the making 18 months on

Agriculture minister Anton Refalo had no answer as to why two years since announcing rules for zoo animals and a ban on petting of wild animals, he has been unable to issue draft legislation in the face of opposition from zookeepers.

Refalo was announcing yet another round of public consultation, this time for a national animal welfare strategy.

But the minister was unable to explain the delay into enacting rules for Malta’s zoos, despite bold proposals made back in 2020.

“We’re a governmnet that listens... we are preparing the draft consultation,” Refalo said, questioned yet again about his inability to deliver the legislation.

“We’re here to draw up laws that respect animals’ dignity, that does justice by all parties concerned, especially the public... now that we have all information in hand, we’re moving forward to present a draft law.”

But Refalo was unable to commit to a timeline. “It won’t take long,” the minister said, unable to explain his inability to issue the laws for zoos and exotic animals.

In the past he has denied being subjected to pressure from zookeepers. In November 2021, Refalo said an impact assessment on the amendments to the zoos regulations was being carried out, promising it would have been presented in weeks.

In January 2022, he said the rules would be presented within a week.

Calls for new rules grew in the wake of a recent incident at an Għajnsielem residence where two wild cats attacked a dog.

Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina had also said she was hopeful, but not confident that zoo cub petting would be banned, one of the original proposals made by government.

In 2020, government proposed the prohibition of big-cat cub petting at zoos in a White Paper, but relinquished it just 24 hours later following outrage by zookeeper and known Labour adherent Anton Cutajar.