Last October the Planning Authority lifted a €50,000 planning gain when it sanctioned a zoo in Siggiewi built without a permit, on condition the venue would allow free school visits. Yet school visits to all places where wild animals are kept in captivity are not permitted by law.
The Education Ministry confirmed a 2009 ban was still in place. The Shift asked the Education Ministry to state its policy on school visits to animal enclosures and zoos, and whether this policy distinguished between fully permitted zoos and those with pending illegalities.
“A 2009 directive which excludes school visits relating to captive wild animals, circuses and relating activities from the school calendar is still effective, and it would apply for all circumstances”, a spokesperson for the Education Ministry said.
In October an illegal zoo in Siggiewi was legalised by the Planning Authority despite objections by the Environment and Resources Authority.
A proposed planning gain of €50,000 was changed into a requirement for an agreement to be reached with the Education Department to facilitate “free school visits”.
Anton Cutajar, the applicant, had argued that the proposed planning gain was excessive as the zoo served a therapeutic function.
The L-Arka ta’ Noe “therapeutic Zoo”, is situated over more than 10,500 square metres of agricultural land and a disused quarry in a rural area known Ta’ Bur ix–Xewk, outside development zones.
The structures legalised by the PA include enclosures for Siberian tigers, black leopards, alpacas, wallabies and monkeys – as well as a car park and a farmhouse serving as a residence and catering facility. The zoo came to wider attention in June, when it announced the birth of two extremely rare white tiger cubs.
The circular issued in 2009 was ignored by schools to the extent that the illegal zoo at Montekristo Estates hosted 36 state school visits between 2011 and 2016. The unlicensed zoo was closed down by the owners, the Polidano group, after a tiger hurt a three-year-old boy in 2015.
A Project Development Statement for the Siggiewi zoo issued that year claimed the zoo also contributed to the conservation of the largest big cat on Earth, the Siberian tiger (WWF considers captive breeding as a last resort conservation measure).
The PDS also stated the therapeutic zoo was as valuable as the agricultural land it replaced. “Receiving therapy is consuming a service and in the same way good quality food heals, so does good quality therapy, food which nourishes both the body and the soul”.