Zookeeper apologises to Animal Welfare Commissioner; ‘I’ve been misinterpreted’

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Zookeeper Anton Cutajar who owns Arka ta’ Noe which was illegally built and later sanctioned by the Planning Authority, said that he is ready to apologise to Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina in a post on Facebook.

Taking to social media, Cutajar said that if Bezzina took offence at what he had to say when he “warned” her that if she “keeps it up” he will send letters to whom he needs to send them and have her removed from her post, he was ready to make a public apology.

Cutajar said that his statements had been misinterpreted by those who understood that he would write to the prime minister or any other government minister. He clarified that he was referring to writing to the EU because in his opinion, a commissioner for animal welfare should have experience in the sector and not merely be an animal lover.

“When you stream a live video, it is very easy to forget mentioning something. But am making a public apology and am ready to help her in her work for the benefit of the animals,” Cutajar wrote.

Cutajar’s Facebook post comes after the District Police said that it will take action against him after the online tirade.

In a live Facebook stream on Tuesday, Cutajar warned Bezzina that he would oust her from her post. He claimed that the commissioner’s comments on zoos were part of an agenda against him, maintaining that the more they hit out at him, the further he is strengthened.

Bezzina made her comments after a public consultation on proposed new rules for zoos closed on Monday. The government backtracked on its plans to ban animal petting.

After deleting the video, Cutajar took to Facebook and said that he is a “common and private” citizen who does not hold public office. He maintained that in a democratic country he had a right to his opinion and at no point he behaved violently or threatened others.

In his online rant, Cutajar acknowledged that he did raise his voice during the live stream, adding that he has been under attack on social media and was accused of drugging his tigers.

“Mention one parent who is not hurt when they are accused of drugging their children. The animals are my children,” Cutajar said.

He ended by saying that given his experience with exotic animals, he could be of help to the animal welfare commissioner.

UK Foundation condemns government backtracking on key proposals to ban wild animal petting in zoos

A British foundation, Born Free which was founded by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, who starred in the movie classic, Born Free (1966), together with their eldest son, Will, have condemned the government’s u-turn on its proposal to ban wild animal petting in zoos.

In a statement, the foundation said that the reason behind the Maltese government’s U-Turn regarding new regulations restricting the petting of potentially dangerous wild animals in Maltese Zoos may now be becoming clear.

“The original proposed ban recognised that handling and close physical interaction with captive wild animals was likely to compromise the physical and psychological wellbeing of the animals concerned, and jeopardise public safety. These are key issues and precisely why the draft law should remain as it was originally presented, with a full ban on animal petting,” Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones explained.

He added that however it has been reported that the newly-appointed animal welfare commissioner Alison Bezzina has been the target of social-media threats from Maltese zoo owner Anton Cutajar who threatened to have her ousted.

Jones also referred to the government’s explanation on the matter which stated that the draft was “published erroneously” and the correct version was subsequently uploaded.

This revised text, “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” was a source of concern for the foundation, according to the statement.

The head of policy stated that this would expose members of the public to unacceptable levels of risk and could expose the veterinarians involved to potentially crippling personal liability in the event that an injury occurs as a consequence of a close interaction or animal petting event that they have authorised.

The original announcements by the Maltese Government on the future regulation of zoos (The Keeping of Wild Animals in Zoos Regulations), which would broadly have brought the country in line with EU Regulations and best-practice, were warmly welcomed by animal welfare campaigners. Importantly, they included a proposed ban on close contact with and the petting of captive wild animals in licensed zoos.

“However, the ink was barely dry before the authorities announced a significant climb-down, setting aside the ban in favour of a much weaker proposal which permitted wild animal petting under the supervision of a veterinarian.”

The foundation said that it hoped that new legislation would lead to the establishment of a small number of effectively-licensed captive wild animal facilities, the closure of illegal or non-compliant operations, and a far greater emphasis on the wellbeing and welfare of those individual wild animals that remain in captivity.

“Now we fear for the animals, the public, zoo employees and veterinarians alike,” Dr Jones concluded.