Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary, once owned by the 'Lion Man', goes under

2:03 pm on 7 March 2023
Lions at Whangārei's revived Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary.

Lions at Whangārei's revived Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

A big cat sanctuary in Whangārei has gone into involuntary liquidation.

It had only just reopened in 2021 after eight years closed down, and housed lions, tigers, and a leopard.

"The cats are fine and being looked after, their welfare is unaffected," Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary operator Janette Vallance said in a statement on Tuesday.

She is contacting people booked to visit in the coming weeks, and is in negotiations with the liquidator and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The park was once run by Craig Busch - the 'Lion Man' - and was also the scene of a fatal tiger attack on a handler in 2009.

More than $10m was spent on the sanctuary between 2017 and 2021 to get it up to scratch. Vallance bought it in June 2019, but most of the upgrade work was paid for by Bolton Equities - now the liquidators.

The park was given the green light to open to the public by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Vallance said at the time she had come in to fix a problem at the park, and felt she had done that.

"It was a mammoth project".

When they arrived the cats were highly medicated and "looked like hippies from the '70s", she said.

But Vallance told RNZ in 2021 they were now much more "chill cats" after being weaned off medications.

Most of the animals were older - around 15 to 16 years - at the time of the 2021 reopening. Vallance said without their claws, and having been used to captivity, they would not survive in the wild.

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Ministry for Primary Industries deputy director general Vince Arbuckle said: "Since the facility opened to the public on 12 November 2021, MPI has regularly conducted onsite visits.

"There have been no animal welfare issues identified since ... Our last visit was early last week, and there are no containment or welfare concerns."

The ministry was "seeking more information from the owners and operators regarding the liquidation proceedings", Arbuckle said.

"There is a legal agreement between Bolton Equities and the park's operators underwriting it."

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