Big cats cared for as park closed
By BRITTON BROUN and MICHAEL FIELD
The Dominion Post
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2009
More than 40 big cats at Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Gardens are safe and will be well cared for after a decision to temporarily close the park, officials say.
The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry enacted powers under the Biosecurity Act to temporarily close the park yesterday, two days after South African keeper Dalu Mncube was mauled to death by a white tiger.
The Labour Department, which has now investigated three wild animal attacks at the park in the past 13 months, also served two improvement notices on it yesterday.
The first required the park to meet ministry standards for animal enclosures and the second required it to implement interim safety measures to protect staff dealing with the animals.
The park would remain closed till the ministry was satisfied that it was able to consistently comply with the animal welfare and enclosure requirements for zoos and wildlife parks, a ministry spokesman said.
"There is no intention to euthanase any of the animals."
Zion staff and builders made changes to enclosures yesterday, and were preparing for Mr Mncube's funeral at the park on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning tourists and children watched in horror as Abu the male tiger bit into Mr Mncube's shoulder and dragged him around the enclosure, tearing into his head, torso and legs.
Abu, one of only 120 white tigers worldwide, was shot twice and killed when attempts to pry him off Mr Mncube failed.
In February, Mr Mncube saved another keeper when Abu bit his knee.
Former Zion keeper "Lion Man" Craig Busch said yesterday there was no way he would allow the park's 13 barbary lions and nine bengal tigers to be put down. "You can see why they are extinct in the wild," an emotional Mr Busch said. "Is there a reason for them to be extinct in captivity in the world?"
Mr Busch, who says he is the animals' owner, has been fired by the park's owners and is in an employment relations dispute with them. He is also involved in civil action.
He would not comment on whether it was appropriate for Abu to be killed, but said tigers were "sneaky animals".
"If they see an opportunity they will grab the moment. The best person to handle these animals is right here. You are looking at him ... These male tigers, I have raised from a young age. They know me very well ... they are my children, they know me inside out."
Mr Busch said he had been concerned about safety at the park since his dismissal last year. But those fears were compounded by the loss of Mr Mncube, who was the most experienced staff member.
The ministry, which investigated Zion last year and was so concerned by overcrowding and unsanitary conditions that it considered putting the cats down, said yesterday that the park was being well managed.