3 Oct 2012

Mauled keeper was under 'great stress'

10:53 pm on 3 October 2012

The fiancee of an African keeper mauled to death by a tiger at Zion Wildlife Gardens has told an inquest he was under great stress due to conflict at work.

Northland coroner Brandt Shortland is hearing evidence about the events surrounding the fatal mauling of Clifford (Dalu) Mncube by a white tiger in May 2009.

It has been revealed that the talented cat-handler was recruited by television personality and former owner of the park, Craig Busch - known as the 'Lion Man' - and entered New Zealand on a false passport.

Mr MnCube's fiancee Sharon Arnott broke down in tears on Wednesday as she told of Mr Mncube's concerns about safety at the wildlife park in Whangarei.

Ms Arnott said she was not aware of his passport fears, but knew that he was often upset about conflict at the park between Craig Busch and his mother Patricia Busch.

She said Mr Mncube was working there six days a week and on the day he was killed he was supposed to be having a day off.

Ms Arnott's lawyer Juliet Golightly says Craig Busch threatened Mr Mncube with deportation if he signed a contract with Mrs Busch, while Mrs Busch was threatening to send him home if he did not sign.

Ms Golightly says Ms Arnott believes the stress and worry affecting Mr Mncube were factors in the attack.

Andrew Ward, a builder at the park also gave evidence on Wednesday, describing Craig Busch as a coward who put staff at risk while protecting himself.

Mr Ward says Mr Busch insisted on moving the tigers into a new bush enclosure for filming before staff had time to build lockout areas.

When Mr Mncube asked how they could safely clean the enclosure, Mr Ward says Mr Busch told him to find a way.

"I remember that the following day he got Dalu to walk down the inside of the enclosure ... and Craig walked on the outside of the enclosure. He wouldn't walk inside with him. That's when I realised that the Lion Man is no Lion Man."

Mr Ward told the inquest on the day the tiger attacked, he tried to drive it off Mr Mncube with a cattle prod, then shot it three times, but by then the keeper was dead.