A prominent and outspoken Maltese zookeeper has reacted to new proposals that would see exotic animal keepers and zookeepers change the way they handle animals.
The new policy put forward by Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo would see mandatory neutering, microchipping, an obligatory insurance policy, 24-hour CCTV footage and the prohibition of the petting of wild animals at zoos. It would also ban the breeding of wild animals unless special permission is obtained.
“I agree with most of the proposals,” Anton Cutajar told Lovin Malta. “We need double fencing for enclosures, and I agree with the insurance as well as the cameras – we have three or four servers here at L-Arka ta’ Noè ourselves, with cameras installed both inside the enclosure as well as outside – and why shouldn’t they be?”
L-Arka taʼ Noè is an 40,000 sqm animal park in Siġġiewi.
However, there were a number of proposals that Cutajar disagreed with.
“There’s a proposal that people with criminal record can’t be a zoo owner – it’s banal, just cause you have a police conduct?” he said. “If they stole once then they will always steal? Just because someone made a mistake once doesn’t mean he’ll make the mistake for ever.”
And when it comes to mandatory neutering or banning pet cubbing, he had major reservations.
“I don’t agree with it. If the animals are over three months I agree with it, but a month-old cub, what’s wrong with that?” he asked.
“Tourists from all over the world come to Malta to see these cubs; people from America and China and other countries,” Cutajar said. “And we don’t let anyone hurt these cubs, we take care of them so closely. Let’s be clear: we keep the cubs in our hands, we give you the cub to take a picture, and that’s it. People aren’t running around with cubs in their hands.”
“No one is going to hurt the cubs, for sure, not in front of us.”
Reacting to the proposals yesterday, Cutajar even uploaded a 40 minute rant where he spoke at length about zoos in Malta.
Questioning what would happen to other forms of exotic animal touching, such as swimming with dolphins or falconry, he broke down his routine for cub petting.
“We have four cubs – two are left inside while two are taken outside. We allow petting on Saturday and Sunday only, between 11am and 5pm, with breaks in between,” he said.
“We only keep the cubs out till they are about two or three months old – but when I see people going inside enclosures with adults, I think it’s crazy. If the animals get their scent… and it’s all for money,” he lamented.
Talking of money, Cutajar made it clear that the tigers he breeds for parks and owners abroad cost way too much for him to make any real money from them.
“Before we breed any animals, we already have places ready for them to live in, and then we breed them,” he said. “We are talking about international owners who own parks in places like Dubai, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan – and they go crazy for the Maltese tiger, which we have here,” he said. “And they usually then donate a sum for the animal.”
“Though we could breed them three times a year, we only breed them once a year,” he said. “Breeding is not done as a business – honestly, thank god we have volunteers and companies to sponsor the meat, with tigers costing about €20 each a day to keep.”
Cutajar intends on speaking to Minister Refalo as a stakeholder in the process.
“A lot of these proposals are good, and important, like the proposal to have all exotic animals microchipped (all of ours are) as well as the cameras and double fencing, they are mostly good, apart from the neutering of the animals,” he said.
“If you neuter animals their hormones change,” he said. “We have a Golden Tabby here, one of only 30 in the world, should I neuter her?”