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Herald on Sunday editorial: Zion cats centre of increasingly sad show

The coroner's hearing into the death of Clifford MnCube earlier this week has revealed even more reasons for public wariness. Photo / Thinkstock
The coroner's hearing into the death of Clifford MnCube earlier this week has revealed even more reasons for public wariness. Photo / Thinkstock

There is no doubt there is something about big cats that stirs something in many of us.

They are noble, dangerous and, in this part of the world, one of the first must-sees of any zoo or wildlife park visit.

That should have made Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Gardens, which features many lions and tigers and a polarising frontman in Craig Busch, one of the country's most high-profile, most profitable and most frequented of tourist attractions.

It is, however, just one of those three things - high profile. And the reason for that is the series of disasters that it has been the centre of.

The latest this week, the coroner's hearing into the death of Clifford (Dalu) MnCube, killed by one of the animals he was caring for, has revealed even more reasons for public wariness. It was claimed during the hearing that Busch had been threatening MnCube over his immigration status; that Busch and his mother, who had a messy falling out, asked staff not to report injuries inflicted by the cats; and that the Ministry of Agriculture had been scared to shut down the park for fears the backlash from the Lion Man's support base would damage our tourism reputation.

It must be stressed that the claims about the Busch duo are unproven. Coroner Brandt Shortland, who has indicated he will make adverse comments, at least in his draft findings, may decide they are outside his brief when determining the reasons for MnCube's death, and recommendations he makes to prevent something similar happening.

At the very least, however, they should force some of Busch's loyal band, who in the UK call themselves the Busch Babes, to question their devotion. Presumably he is only back at the park because of their backing and, more importantly, dollars. But the issues keep piling up. A violent relationship with a former partner; questions over the cats' welfare; a series of earlier attacks; worries about safety procedures in the park; and the material placed in front of the coroner this week. His continued refusal to engage with the media on big issues raises another question mark.

Busch has perhaps been the Kiwi most comparable to much-loved Australian Steve Irwin. Men who looked the part and had a passion for wildlife.

But it needs more than passion when you have the responsibility for the welfare of staff and up to 40 big cats. Right now Busch appears someone who has struggled with that burden.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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