MBIE defends not closing down Zion

By Mike Dinsdale

White tigers are visible roaming about in Zion Wildlife Gardens, just outside Whangarei. Photo / APN
White tigers are visible roaming about in Zion Wildlife Gardens, just outside Whangarei. Photo / APN

A Government department has defended not closing down Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Gardens while it was investigating a tiger attack on a worker, despite the big cat later going on to kill handler Dalu MnCube.

Northland coroner Brandt Shortland has recommended the Government look at new regulations surrounding the operations of zoos and animal parks after Dalubuhle Ncube, also known as Clifford Dalu MnCube - or Dalu - was mauled by a male tiger named Abu after he and fellow handler Martin Ferreira had entered its enclosure to clean it on May 27, 2009.

After holding an inquest into the death in October, last year, Mr Shortland released his formal findings this week.

Dalu's partner Sharon Arnott told the Northern Advocate, through her lawyer Juliet Golightly, that she felt her partner and father of their daughter would still be alive if the then Department of Labour DOL (now part of the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, MBIE) had been more proactive.

In February 2009 Abu had attacked another handler at the park - Demetri Price - leaving him with serous injuries after Dalu saved Mr Price from death in the attack.

Mrs Golightly said Ms Arnott believes that the then DOL should have put the safety of people as paramount as part of its investigation and closed the park until the investigation had been completed.

An MBIE spokesman said its actions regarding a separate incident involving Mr Price were appropriate.

"Once MBIE became aware of the incident it commenced an investigation. The Ministry needs solid grounds for closing an operation and the nature of the workplace activity did not provide for sufficient grounds to immediately conclude that closure of the park was required or defendable," the spokesman said.

"As required, MBIE was following due process and gathering information and evidence to reach a defendable decision as to enforcement action. Unfortunately, while this was taking place Mr MnCube was tragically killed."

He said Mr MnCube's death was a tragedy and MBIE has successfully prosecuted those whose responsibility it was to provide Mr MnCube with a safe working environment.

In December 2011, Zion Wildlife Gardens Limited was ordered to pay reparations of $60,000 to Dalu's partner after pleading guilty to one charge under Section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

In relation to the Coroner's call for legislative reform, the MBIE spokesman said the Ministry has received the report and is considering the points made.

"We will have no comment to make until that process is completed," he said.

*Zion Wildlife Gardens was placed in liquidation in 2011 and sold to new owners in February 2012 who operate from the premises as Kingdom of Zion. The new owners were not involved in the running of the park at the time of the accident.

The Kingdom of Zion did not want to comment, at this stage, on the coroner's recommendations for legislative change.

- Northern Advocate

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