Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis said on Thursday he was looking into the possibility of preparing a decree for the regulation of imports of exotic animals to Cyprus.
The move comes after strong reactions to the reported poor conditions of animals at the Melios zoo in Nicosia, namely one of the two lions that arrived last year along with two Siberian tigers. Photos show one of the lions, a female, with a severe eye infection.
The Animal Party has also raised an issue on the recent import of three Eurasian lynxes to the zoo, which said the animals arrived on Wednesday. On Thursday Kouyialis went to the zoo along with two veterinary officials.
“My visit was to make sure that there are no safety issues for visitors and no issues as regards animal welfare,” Kouyialis told the Cyprus Mail. He added that it appears that there was nothing amiss but the state vet services would continue monitoring the facilities.
As regards the lion, Kouyialis said, it was being monitored by a private vet and also by the state vet services. He added that it would be given treatment.
The owner of the zoo, Melios Menelaou, told the Cyprus Mail that the problem with the lion was known to the vet services ever since it arrived on the island a year ago.
“It is a condition that was created due to its age. It is 16-years-old,” Menelaou said.
He added that the problem lay in the fact that even though he had informed the state vet services when he brought the lions and the tigers a year ago, that he needed a tranquiliser gun so that they could be examined when necessary, the service kept saying that they did not have any.
“Suddenly, today the head of the vet services, called me to inform me they have at their disposal a new one,” he said. “I had told them in the past, even yesterday, that I would give them the money to buy the gun, but I received no answer,” he said. He added that an expert is to arrive on Friday from abroad to examine the lion.
But there appears to be confusion among state services as to the import of the lynxes as well, as the vet services said they did not approve the arrival of the animals and that they had in fact tried to stop it. The lynxes arrived from Germany through Amsterdam.
The head of Customs Demetris Hadjicostis told the Cyprus Mail that they were informed by the state environment service that the lynxes should not be allowed in as the zoo did not have the proper infrastructure to host them and that they should inform the Dutch airport authorities.
He added that officials at Larnaca airport were informed but the lynxes arrived through Paphos airport instead. But when he asked the private company that arranged the import why they went ahead with it, Hadjicostis said, he was told that a vet services official gave them the green light. He said that he has launched a probe into the mess up.
Menelaou said all of his animals have their papers, and “not a single bird is illegal”.
“They (authorities) know that, but they rushed here [today] to cover their own mess,” he said. He said that he has sued the state services in the past for killing his animals or for detaining them in such a way that they died.
Kouyialis said that as Menelaou imported the lynxes without permission, he would be fined, and he would have to send them back.
“If other issues arise, we will take the strictest of measures,” he said.
He added that his ministry was looking into all legal measures to determine how they can curb the import of exotic animals to the island, probably with a decree. A bill proposal has also been prepared and it is currently at the legal service for scrutiny, Kouyialis said, but new legislation might take years before it is actually passed.
As regards Melios zoo, the establishment is also registered as a pet shop. To-date, since national legislation does not specify which animals are considered as pets, pet shops can import anything, from cats to tigers, as long as the latter were born in captivity and are obtained within the EU.
Cyprus abides by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which allows trade of endangered species born in captivity between EU countries. The aim of the CITES is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival, but lack of coordination between services, puts these animals in more danger in Cyprus as authorities appear to not be in a position to properly monitor the situation.
Kouyialis also said that a probe was launched into the death of one of the two young female elephants that arrived at the Paphos zoo, also last year, and which died about a month ago, probably of bronchopneumonia. The Paphos zoo has yet to answer publicly as to the conditions of the animal’s death.
The agriculture ministry said in an announcement that the majority of photos that have been circulating lately in the media and online from the Melios zoo, date back to 2009 and 2010, and concern cases that have already been dealt with by the vet services.
The Animal Party said that it would participate in a protest on July 9 outside Melios zoo in Ayioi Trimithias in Nicosia at 5pm, and that it would also send a memo to President Nicos Anastasiades.