Lion man back with roar more strife at park

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Tension boiled over at Zion Wildlife Kingdoms after former owner Patricia Busch was locked out and her operator's license for the park is being looked at by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The drama unfolded about noon yesterday when Mrs Busch returned to the park after having lunch but was denied entry together with her lawyer, Evgeny Orlov.

"We're going to go to court immediately to ask for judicial intervention into this mess, this is, in my view, highly illegal action," Mr Orlov said.

Police were earlier called to the park after the lawyer for Mrs Busch's daughter, Megan Busch, refused to leave when asked to by Zion's new owners.

Megan Busch yesterday pleaded not guilty in the Whangarei District Court to the charge of trespass at the park and was released on bail to re-appear for a defended hearing on May 7.

Police spokeswoman Sarah Kennett said the lawyer, who she did not name, was served with a trespass notice by the park owners yesterday morning.

"Officers spoke to the new owner of the park and said they would be able to verbally give the order to the lawyer," Ms Kennett said.

"The police did not remove the lawyer and it was left in the owner's hands."

The lawyer left late yesterday afternoon.

Mr Orlov claimed he was not allowed to see his client and planned to file court action regarding the sale of the park and the behaviour of police.

His comments followed confirmation by Zion director Beth McVerry that Lion Man Craig Busch was reunited with the animals at the park, three years after he was sacked by his mother.

However, the reunion with the big cats may not be plain sailing as he currently does not have an operator's licence and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is having urgent talks with park owners to ensure the welfare of 36 animals is maintained.

Ms McVerry indicated she would read out a brief statement, copies of which were earlier handed over to the waiting media outside the main gate. However, park contractor Sam Bailey was later forced to read out the statement confirmed Mr Busch was at the park, attending to the welfare of the cats.

"They [animals] love having him back," Ms McVerry said, without entertaining any questions from the media.

She said MAF was dealing with the operator's licence.

MAF also issued a statement late yesterday in which it refused to comment on why Mr Busch was allowed to interfere with the animals or who would be allowed to look after them in the absence of Mrs Busch.

"MAF's legal responsibility is to ensure Zion Wildlife Gardens has an operator accountable for the secure containment of the animals held there and that the welfare of those animals is maintained.

"MAF is urgently talking to the parties involved in the park and the new owners of the land to assess whether or not the current MAF approved legal operator Patricia Busch can discharge her operator responsibilities under the new park ownership.

"Until we have completed this assessment, we will not be making any further comment or providing any interviews," the ministry said.

- Northern Advocate

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