No time for nerves as tiger bit: keeper
4:00AM Saturday Feb 21, 2009
By Beck Vass
Instinct kicks in as Dalu Mncube acts to free colleague's knee from big cat's jaws
Dalu Mncube didn't have time to think - let alone get scared - when a 260kg tiger latched its huge jaws into his workmate's knee.
Instinct kicked in and Mr Mncube, Zion Wildlife Gardens' most experienced big-cat keeper, plunged his fingers into the gap between the tiger's 75mm-long teeth, before using a fire extinguisher to force the animal to release his colleague, Demetri Price.
Mr Price, 30, remained in a stable condition in Whangarei Hospital last night following more surgery to his knees after the attack on Wednesday.
Speaking to the Herald in the hospital yesterday, Mr Price said he was not a "victim" and had not been "attacked" by the white bengal tiger, which remains one of his favourite cats.
The Australian said Abu - Zion Wildlife Gardens' biggest tiger - simply got scared while he was being moved and bit him four times because the cat feared he was being cornered.
"It's like a builder falling off a ladder," Mr Price said. "It's something that's a calculated risk.
"If you're doing this type of work and you haven't thought about it happening then you shouldn't be doing your job.
"The most dangerous part of my job is carving the meat to feed the cats. There's more injuries from preparing their food than from the animals."
Mr Price said he had Abu in "tooth block" hold, holding the tiger's lips over his teeth, when Mr Mncube stepped in.
While the biting has attracted huge interest, both cat handlers and their colleagues are very relaxed about it.
"I never got scared," Mr Mncube said. "You stay nice and calm. If I got scared and panicked we could have had two casualties ... it happened in a flash. It was over before we knew it."
A South African cat keeper of nine years' experience, Mr Mncube said all keepers knew to keep calm if an animal bit and he played down his role.
Abu is not one of the tigers that interact with the public because of his tendency to get frightened.
Park employee Bridgette Henare-Winiata said she had initially denied the biting happened when contacted by the Herald on Wednesday because she was not aware it had occurred.
The park is the subject of an ownership dispute between Lion Man Craig Busch and his mother, Patricia Busch.
Mr Busch was also criticised last April for failing to notify the Labour Department when a white lion bit a guide.
Department spokesman Colin Patterson said a "robust" investigation into the attack would judge the incident.
He refused to say if the future of the park was in jeopardy.