IAR helps force change to animal welfare laws in Malta
Two animal welfare Bills were introduced during April and May. Both Acts speak about animal welfare in general and the environment.
For the first time, in the animal welfare field, the Maltese will have an Act to establish and consolidate the protection of animals kept for work, sport, companionship and food.
Up to now the only animal protection regulations were to be found in the Criminal Act. These were outdated, and inadequate. International Animal Rescue, Malta (IARM) has been lobbying to change the laws since 1991. In 1998 a set of Rules and Regulations were prepared and forwarded to the responsible authorities. Since then two conferences have been held to explain our position.
The new laws provide for the protection of the animal, prevents and punishes acts of ill treatment and also protects animals from undue labour and work practice which are beyond, and not consistent with their nature.
Recently, IARM formed an alliance with the Marine Life Care Group, and World Animal Conscience (WAC) to lobby on a number of points which are not mentioned in the new law. Among the points which the consortium are working on are:
- Regulations for dolphinariums
- Visiting circuses
- Keeping of reptiles
- Conditions for animals in pet shops
- Importation of wildlife
Meetings will be held to prepare a report for the authorities.
Speaking about the aims of this Bill, the Hon Minister for Agriculture Mr Ninu Zammit said that he recognises that it is the duty of the Government to collaborate with voluntary organisations in the field of animal welfare, and that it is his duty to promote the culture of respect towards animals. The Bill includes the establishment of a Council for Animal Welfare, which will be made up of experts, and also representatives of voluntary groups. The Bill also speaks in length on the keeping of animals, caring for animals, surgical operations, killing of animals, housing, breeding, transport, the use of animals for sport and experiments.
The regulations were launched at a conference organised by IARM and WAC and explained to the animal welfare groups in Malta, by Dr M Vella from the directorate of Vet Services in Malta.
David Bowles, head of the International Section of the RSPCA spoke about the need for the animal welfare groups to unite to present one front for lobbying and the advantages of the new laws, which he defined as an act with a European standard.
The second Act, which was introduced at the same time, deals mainly with environmental issues, including hunting.
A national commission was set up to help regulate the environmental problems. The Bill speaks about the duties of the Government to protect the environment and manage the natural resources in a sustainable manner. It also speaks about the protection of the various species. For the first time environmental Impact assessments are being regulated by an Act of Parliament and this helps to protect the natural habitat for the local flora and fauna alike. An environmental fund is to be set up for protection purposes. The enforcement issue is being reviewed and heavy penalties are being introduced. IARM does not agree with all the changes to the laws including:
- The shooting limits in the open countryside They have been reduced and this is dangerous to passers by
- The age to obtain a licence We want this to be at least 21 and not the current 18
- The breeding of bird species (quails and turtle doves) for sport shooting
The Minister set up a committee of consultants made up from groups on both sides of the debate to regulate and advise the Government. For the first time in 30 years Birdlife Malta has joined forces with the hunters on this issue. The local environmentalists did not like this ’co-operation agreement’ on the basis that Birdlife is not the only group in Malta, which protects the birds, and their habitat.
IARM monitored the last hunting season and found that things have changed considerably. The Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) section of the Malta Police under the direction of Police Inspector Miruzzi introduced several changes, which are in favour of the birds. We noticed that increasing police patrols drastically reduced hunting in the ’hot spots’. This was very well planned with the help of voluntary groups including IARM, who have regular meetings with the ALE Police. Apart from enforcement this section is doing a lot of work to educate the lawbreakers in this sector. Judging by the number of injured birds received in our wildlife hospital, there has been a marked decrease in the number of protected birds being shot. Also, noticeably fewer being shot with illegal pellets. Some of the injuries were minor and overall the number of injured birds saved was much higher than last year. The number of prosecutions has risen with culprits receiving heavy fines. The Courts are now also confiscating the shotguns and the birds.
One of the problems which is not yet solved despite a lot of cooperation is the ’Hunting Tours to Egypt’. Maltese hunters are still going on these tours and a lot of protected birds, some of which are rare species, are still being killed. The number of hunters going to Egypt on official tours, or on their own, is on the increase and the killing is still rampant. Recently the Police, under the directorship of Insp Miruzzi, confiscated more than 400 bird species, which were hunted and brought over from Africa.
This is not the only case of illegal importation. The hunters always seem to find ways round the importation laws. International Co-operation, especially between the Egyptian and Maltese Government, is needed.