29 May 2009

MAF shuts wildlife park after zookeeper's death

8:16 pm on 29 May 2009

The wildlife park where a zookeeper was killed by a tiger has been shut down by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry until it meets safety and animal welfare standards.

Dalu Mncube was fatally mauled by a white male Bengal tiger at Zion Wildlife Gardens in Whangarei on Wednesday when he entered the animal's enclosure to clean it.

The park has not been open to the public since then.

MAF said on Friday it is closing the park until it complies with animal welfare and enclosure requirements.

MAF said it was already undertaking a review of standards at the park, including guidelines for close animal contact and encounters, when Mr Mncube was killed.

The park's standards review will be informed by the outcomes of investigations into Mr Mncube's death by MAF officials, and by the Department of Labour.

The tiger which killed Mr Mncube was shot on Wednesday but the ministry says it does not intend to have any of the remaining animals put down.

MAF says zoo safety standards may change following Mr Mncube's death.

The Department of Labour is also taking measures to ensure the park improves staff safety.

Lion Man questions standards

Craig Busch, who founded the park and starred on television's Lion Man series, says he has serious concerns about management and safety at Zion.

He no longer works at the park as he is in the middle of an Employment Relations Dispute.

But Mr Busch says when he did work there, no-one was to go into the tiger enclosure without him.

He says one of his main concerns is the level of experience those working at the park have.

At Australia's Dreamworld, which keeps tigers, the ratio of keepers to the animals is almost one to one.

Al Mucci of Dreamworld says keepers do enter the tigers' enclosures but the animals are intensely socialised from birth.

He says handlers are around the tigers for about eight hours a day - although not all Dreamworld's tigers are able to be handled.

Mr Mucci says Dreamworld's tigers have never caused anyone serious injury.

Trust fund for family

The wildlife park has set up a trust to help Mr Mncube's family.

The company's website says the keeper arrived in New Zealand four years ago knowing no-one and quickly became the "heart and soul" of the park.

It says he hand-raised many of the animals at Zion and was known as 'Uncle Dalu' by thousands of visitors.

Zion says donations to the trust, set up through a law firm, will be used for the sole benefit of Mr Mncube's children.