Fisheries Ministry and MNDF at odds over decision to destroy confiscated pets

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has said it was not consulted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) before the destruction of over 120 confiscated pets.

“I was as shocked as anybody else when I saw that they had killed the animals -we were actually talking to the owl owner at the time when I saw the news,” an official with the ministry told Minivan News today.

Confusion surrounded the decision to destroy the animals after a joint operation of all relevant state institutions was prompted by a spate of exotic animal discoveries in the country in recent weeks.

The MNDF yesterday maintained that the animals had been put down upon request of the police, though the police service has denied this.

The Fisheries Ministry has today argued that regulations required the presence of witnesses to the destruction, as well as questioning the legality of the termination of the owl – whose owner had claimed the animal was found rather than imported.

“On Saturday, the ministry’s stand was that if you hand over the animals to us, we would give the choice of re-export – and the fact that the owl was something that was not imported, there was an issue – it was a controversial case that had to be dealt separately,” said the ministry source.

MNDF Deputy Spokesman Captain Ali Ihusaan has refuted these claims, arguing that the owl’s owner had initially claimed that the owl was legally imported, before changing his story.

“The only places that provide this authorisation were the Ministry of Defence and National Security and the Ministry of Environment – we asked both of these authorities and we asked the owner to provide the owner to provide any documentation given by these ministries,” said Ihusaan.

After cross-checking these confiscated creatures with import records, and thus proving they could not have been imported legally, the animals were put down, he explained.

“We are not an animal farm or a zoo and we cannot take care of that number of animals at the same time,” he added. “The animals that we disposed of were not endangered species so we didn’t really have to consult with any other authorities.”

Regarding the requirement that witnesses be present for the animals’ destruction, Ihusaan suggested that this was regulation was only applicable to animals seized at the ports.

The source at the Fisheries Ministry has revealed that a letter has been drafted to request proof that the animals have been terminated, suggesting that this was important in order to halt speculation about the animals potentially being transferred to new owners.

“A lot of people speculate because that actually does happen sometimes and people really don’t trust these institutions, and that’s why I stressed they should be destroyed in the presence of everybody.”

Local media today reported that the lawyer representing the owl’s owner claimed the animal has not been destroyed, arguing that the owner will withdraw charges filed with the Police Integrity Commission if the bird is returned.

The ministry of fisheries source revealed that the outpouring of anger following the animals’ destruction resulted in anxious crowds gathering at the ministry, as well as threatening phone calls being received from angry owners – hence the official’s request for anonymity.

The official went on to suggest that they had clearly requested that all the institutions involved in the operation to confiscate the animals should have been consulted before their destruction, suggesting that the only legal rationale for their transfer to the MNDF’s mandate was that the animals had been deemed ‘dangerous or wild’.

The animals destroyed included 11 iguanas, a snake, a sugar glider (possum), an owl, a squirrel, and 105 rats.

“We did not want any of the animals to be killed,” said the ministry official.