By Sarah Carabott
Pet shops will be regulated from next month but no rules on importation.
Pet shops will be regulated for the first time under a new legal notice next month but people will still be able to import any animal that is not an endangered species.
Discussions about regulating exotic pets continue and there is no definition of ‘dangerous’ animals. Animal welfare director Joseph John Vella said there was room for a definition.
“I think that venomous animals, like a snake, should be considered dangerous,” he said, noting that when such animals were imported, there needed to be antidote for their venom for public safety.
Mr Vella clarified there was one definition under the Dogs Act, where a dog that bit or assaulted a person was considered dangerous.
As regulations stand, however, a person can bring any animal to Malta if they have all veterinary and traces certificates, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) documentation, health and movement notifications and sometimes even passports.
According to an EU legal notice, any establishment where wild animals are kept and is open to the public for more than seven days in total needs a zoo licence as well as Mepa permits and veterinary approval.
Mr Vella explained that while the EU regulates veterinary requisites and commercial and non-commercial movements, national regulators had to define which animals were exotic or dangerous. The main issue would be how to deal with animals that were imported legally before Malta joined the EU and which do not possess the required Cites documentation.
Drawing up a list of dangerous animals would not be easy because there were thousands of species and genera.
While owners should be responsible for their animals, Mr Vella said criteria could specify difficult temperament, dangerous secretions or bites. “There are a number of parameters. One needs to be careful on how to introduce a definition without affecting the free movement of the animal,” he said.
Questions about exotic animal regulation were brought up in 2009 when a 380-kilogram Bengal tiger called Lentilka arrived in Mosta. The incident exposed the lack of rules for importing exotic animals as pets and Times of Malta was told legislation coming into force this April would require these to be registered and properly licensed.
But a spokesman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights said the law was actually for pet shops, boarding kennels and animal sanctuaries, not private owners.
The regulations are geared at setting out and monitoring minimum welfare standards, licensing systems and regulating such establishments.
In 2010, the Animal Welfare Council started discussing possible regulation of exotic animals. Since discussions had not been finalised, it was difficult to envisage when any regulations might come into force, he added.
When contacted, Chris McGowan, one of the Malta Herpetological Society founders, said the new legal notice, which will mean pet shop owners applying for special licences to sell domestic and exotic animals, could potentially introduce alien species to the environment.
The group was set up to promote the conservation of local wild reptiles and raise awareness about their responsible ownership. It endorses caging standards, escape-prevention protocols and control of alien species.
Mr McGowan explained that when breeders have an overstock of offspring, they sell the new hatchlings.
However, come April, they would either have to kill them or set them free across the island.