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Six months on, still no action on Montekristo zoo

No monkey business: big cats at the illegal zoo hurt two young children in the space of five months. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

No monkey business: big cats at the illegal zoo hurt two young children in the space of five months. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

No action has yet been taken against the owners of the Montekristo Animal Park, six months after the first violent incident involving big cats.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had publicly called for action to be taken and an inquiry to be launched into the park after a second incident, involving a young child, took place within a matter of months.

Dr Muscat had tweeted that it was “totally unacceptable that the illegal zoo was opened”, after it had been ordered to close its doors following the first incident there.

The contentious animal park, owned by construction magnate Charles Polidano, first closed its doors after a young girl was clawed by a tiger last year.

The big cat had been “let out for a walk” by its handlers during visiting hours, and the girl had to undergo surgical intervention after the tiger scratched her back and face.

The park was closed immediately by its owners due to “unforeseen circumstances” and remained so during a magisterial inquiry.

However, it was not long before a second incident occurred.

This time it was the hunters’ international fair, organised by the Hunters’ Federation last month, which set the scene for a big cat attack.

While the park was inexplicably opened, a child, this time a young boy, suffered scratches to his neck and back from another animal, a juvenile lioness. Details of the incident remain sketchy and investigations are yet to be concluded.

A spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister said that Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri had been tasked with handling the matter on the government’s behalf.

A spokeswoman for Dr Schembri had last month said: “It is surely not government’s intention to let the matter drag on indefinitely.”

Asked again what action had been taken, Dr Schembri said the authorities were trying to relocate the animals held at the park to a legal zoo in Italy.

She gave no further information on what action would be taken against the animal park management and did not give any updates on the inquiry.

She also gave no deadline on when action would be taken.

Press paws: six months have passed since the first incident. Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPress paws: six months have passed since the first incident. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Following the second incident, the Times of Malta had reported that Mr Polidano had been taken in for questioning by the police.

He spent the night in police custody and was expected to be arraigned in court the following day – something which never happened. Asked for an update, the police said no charges had been issued and inquiries were ongoing.

Front Ħarsien ODZ has since expressed its disappointment that government officials and politicians from both major parties had attended the hunting fair held at Montekristo, “a place riddled by planning illegalities which include an illegal zoo and illegal structures”.

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