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NEWS | Wednesday, 21 October 2009

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Some animals are more equal than others, cat clubs claim

Is it easier to import a Bengal tiger cub than a harmless Persian kitten? This was the question raised by the Malta Cat Society and The Malta Cat Club, both of which have unsheathed their claws after the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) ruled that transactions related to the recent importation of a Bengal tiger to Malta were “all regular”, and that the specimen “was accompanied by the necessary documentation.”
While ordinary cats imported from other EU countries have to spend 30 days in quarantine at a daily expense of €4.12, the Bengal tiger was not even quarantined upon its arrival.
And while an import licence is necessary for domestic cats, the tiger somehow entered Malta without anyone even noticing... until it was ‘discovered’ in a garage in Mosta following complaints by neighbours.
Regular cat importers are even asked for pet passports, proof of rabies immunization and blood titre test. Their cats have to be certified as fit to travel, and have to be flea/tick treated 24-48 hours before arrival. They can only travel on a government approved carrier.
On arrival in Malta, they are met by a Border Post Inspector who checks all the paperwork, while the cats themselves are transferred to a quarantine at Luqa.
However, none of these strict measures appears to have applied in the case of the Mosta Bengal tiger.
It was MaltaToday which first revealed that this tiger had entered Malta under suspicious circumstances. Animal Welfare Director Mario Spiteri himself had confirmed that no veterinary health certificates were presented on its arrival. Furthermore, no reference was made to the Bengal tiger in a list of animals legally imported to Malta, which was published last Sunday. The list included zebras, arctic foxes and skunks... but no tigers.
In its replies, the Environment and Rural Affairs Ministry confirmed that anyone importing an animal must inform the authorities of the time of its arrival.
Following their arrival in Malta, animals are taken to an Inspection Site or to a Quarantine Centre, and may not leave such post until veterinary checks have been carried out to the satisfaction of the competent Official Veterinarian.
The Ministry also confirmed that the same veterinary rules apply both to animals imported from the European Union, and animals imported from other countries.
The cat societies now claim they face discriminatory treatment, as while they are asked to abide to regulations, importers of exotic animals are not.
“If, by MEPA’s argument, the tiger was ‘transferred’ not ‘imported’, then all owners of cats which have had to stay in quarantine can demand their quarantine fees back as their cats were also ‘transferred’ legally from other countries to Malta.”
In reality, MEPA’s only competence in the matter is to implement the CITES Convention which protects endangered animals.
It is the job of the veterinary authorities to ensure that animals entering Malta are subjected to the necessary checks.
Surprisingly the Department for Veterinary Services, which is the competent authority on the importation of animals in Malta, has been silent on this case.
In fact MEPA’s statement did not throw any light on how the tiger had actually entered the island. The authority could only confirm that the tiger was brought to Malta from Slovakia, where it was bred in captivity from parents whose entry in the European Union was also regular.
Yet in its statement MEPA tacitly admitted that the tiger was only regularized retroactively, as the documents were only produced after the tiger was found in the Mosta warehouse.
As Alfred Baldachin, a former high ranking official in the Environment Department, observed “if the Bengal tiger was imported legally, then MEPA, which is the management authority both for Cites and also for the EU regulations, should have had all the documents at its finger tips.”


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