The furore surrounding the potential sale of animals – including a protected species – from the Melios Pet Centre deepened on Wednesday day as Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis and owner Melios Menelaou argued over legal details.
Kouyialis said that if the Nicosia-based Melios pet centre and zoo sells any animals it will answer to the law, while the zoo’s owner Melios Menelaou said that the minister does not know what he is talking about and insisted that he is not breaking any laws.
Nicosia-based Melios announced a sale of mouflons, deer, buffalo and other animals on its Facebook page on June 10. The post touted “special prices until the end of the month” and featured photographs of red deer and mouflons, declaring “all are in stock”.
Speaking to Politis radio on Wednesday morning, Kouyialis said the ministry is closely monitoring Melios and that state vet services would visit the zoo later that day to carry out checks. He added that the zoo is slated to close, but that at the moment it is difficult to find places to send the animals abroad.
“The zoo is under close surveillance,” Kouyialis told the radio station.
Menelaou said his actions are legal as he imported the animals he is selling as pets.
“It is my right provided by the law. All my animals arrived as pets,” Menelaou told the Cyprus Mail.
He said at the moment he has many species for sale, from birds to larger animals such as zebras, mouflons, buffalo, deer, kangaroos, antelopes, and foxes.
The government, he said, is misinforming the public about his zoo to cover their own tracks.
“If my animals were imported illegally, then why isn’t the government taking action against customs officers that processed the imports?” Menelaou asked.
Later in the day, Menelaou told Sigmalive that Kouyialis does not know what he is talking about, prompting the minister to respond by urging him to “stop playing with popular sentiment”.
Kouyialis also said that Menelaou cannot sell mouflons, as it is forbidden by the interior ministry, and that his ministry has notified the Game and Fauna Service, which is responsible for managing mouflon populations. The endemic Cyprus mouflon, or agrino as it is called locally, is a protected species.
In addition, there appears to be confusion over Melios’ status within state services. Kouyialis said early on Wednesday that Melios cannot sell any animals, then a few hours later that the zoo owner can sell only those animals he imported as pets. A source within the state’s veterinary services told the Cyprus Mail that the company cannot sell any animals as it has had its licence as a pet-shop revoked.
The same source said that all the animals at Melios are registered and traceable, meaning they should be accounted for by the owner.
Menelaou said he is doing everything by the book and blames the veterinary services for trying to sabotage his business by slapping him with fines and delays over animal imports. At the moment, he said, there are several court cases pending against state services for illegal killings of his animals. All his animals, he said, have their papers.
He also provided a photo of a Facebook page showing that a pet shop in Larnaca was selling baby crocodiles to the public and nothing was being done when 20 baby crocodiles he had imported in May were confiscated by the authorities despite having the necessary permits.
A draft bill aiming to eliminate legal loopholes by amending the animal welfare law on which animals are considered pets has been prepared.
At the moment, the law does not specify what constitutes a pet. This, plus the fact that 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, means that pet shops can import anything, from birds, to dogs, to snakes, even tigers, as long as they were born in captivity and obtained within the EU.