‘We’re taking this seriously’ say authorities who let Montekristo keep unlicensed zoo open

Incident in which tiger lashed out at 3-year-old boy will raise questions over government’s soft approach towards Charles Polidano’s illegal zoo

The animal park at Montekristo Estates will be closed today
The animal park at Montekristo Estates will be closed today

The government has declared it is taking an incident in which a 3-year-old boy was injured after a tiger on a leash lashed out at the child, “seriously” – knowing full well that the illegal zoo was still allowed to open its doors to the public.

The zoo, part of the Montekristo Estates owned by the Polidano Group, is sited at the Hal-Farrug grounds of the construction group, most of which is replete with enforcement notices from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The zoo will be closed today after the boy was hospitalised yesterday with grievious injuries, although police said he is not in danger of dying.

Questions will be asked of why the government allowed Charles Polidano’s zoo to operate despite its illegality. Many MPs and political candidates have held functions at the complex, which hosts conference facilities.

READ Boy, 3, hospitalised after Montekristo zoo tiger lashes out at him

“The government appeals to the police to investigate this case as best as possible and to take all necessary steps against who is responsible,” it said in a statement.

“In the last two-and-a-half years, this government took steps against the illegalities taking place. The operator faced court action in April 2014 after the parliamentary secretary for rural affairs and animal rights filed a report with the police,” the government said.

The court action was with respect to animals being kept in inadequate cages.

Between September 2014 and January 2014, Montekristo faced a number of MEPA enforcement notices. But despite MEPA refusing the place a permit for its summer trade fair, a police licence appeals board still green-lit the fair to take place in the complex, where numerous planning illegalities abound.

“The animals have been there for at least six years, and it is only in the last months that new animals were prohibited from beign imported,” the government said in its statement.  

On Sunday evening, Montekristo CEO Dr Jean Paul Sammut said the animal park was regularly visited by the Animal Welfare Department to inspect the condition of its animals.

Sammut said the tiger that attacked the child will not be put down.

“The tiger did not attack but tried to play. It would be against the interest of the animals and the tiger if they are put down for hurting someone involuntary when trying to play and accidentally hit someone with its claws. However additional precautions will be taken.”

Sammut said the Montekristo management was with the family all the time after the incident, having taken them to hospital. “The management went to hospital near the family,” he said.

But he said the outstanding issue if the zoo’s licensing was separate from the incident in question.

“The zoo license relates to lack of action by the competent authority years ago which left the group stranded, now knowing how to proceed. Over the past year and a half action, after constant consultations and meetings with the animal welfare department, ministry and MEPA, action was taken by the management and most of the animals housed were moved to the correct environment and spacing according to international standards under the supervision of the animal welfare department.”



A three-year-old boy was grievously injured on Saturday a tiger on a leash at the Montekristo Zoo was said to have lashed out at the child.

Police said the boy was with a 56-year-old man from Zabbar at the time of the incident.

Sammut claimed the boy had been injured by the tiger’s claws “while the animal was playing with it.”

“We express their solidarity with the family. From preliminary investigations it transpires that the tiger was being walked by two handlers, and was lying on the floor at the point of incident. At one point the boy moved towards the tiger, and the tiger wrapped her paws around the boy consequently hitting the boy with its nail [sic] in the face. At no point did the tiger bite the boy or any of the sort took place.”
An eyewitness, Ritienne Spiteri, was there with a friend and eight children when the incident occurred. “The kids were playing on the carousel while most parents were sitting at the café opposite. The two tiger handlers came close to the café where two women were taking photos of the animal. The kids rushed to view the tiger... one child crossed over a passageway whereupon the tiger grabbed the child and appeared to have locked him in a hug. The handler started hitting the tiger until the animal released the boy.”

Spiteri said that there was blood on the ground, and cleaners were called in to clean up the scene.