Big cat attacks keeper at Lion Man's game park

By Elizabeth Binning

A man was last night undergoing surgery after being attacked by a large cat at the Zion Wildlife Gardens near Whangarei.

The Herald understands the attack early yesterday involved a keeper who was bitten on the leg while working at the big-game park, which is home to 42 rare lions and tigers.

A Zion staff member who answered the phone at the park yesterday afternoon - an office manager who said her name was Bridget - denied there had been any attack or injury and was defensive when questioned further.

She said the manager was not available but people rang asking about attacks all the time and it was never true. There had not been any incident yesterday or in the past few days.

However, the Department of Labour confirmed it had received notification about an injury at Zion Wildlife Gardens and that an investigation was under way.

Sources said the victim was a keeper who was a relatively new employee at the park.

It appears he had either driven himself to hospital or been driven privately by someone else as St John have no record of an ambulance being called to the park yesterday.

Police were not involved.

Whangarei Hospital emergency department clinical director Dr Scott Cameron said last night: "We can confirm that a gentleman has presented to Whangarei Hospital after being bitten on the knee by a large cat. He has been admitted to the hospital, his condition is stable and he is presently in theatre."

The man's injuries are not believed to be too serious and last night he was in a stable condition.

The keeper is the second worker to be injured in the past year. Last April the park was criticised after it failed to tell the Labour Department about an attack involving a guide whose hands were bitten by a white lion.

"Lion Man" Craig Busch and his mother, Patricia, are involved in an ongoing battle over ownership of the park and its animals.

Mr Busch, star of the popular TV series The Lion Man, was sacked from his park job last year, accused of serious misconduct including breaches of safety protocols, inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, performance issues, failing to keep proper training records and causing loss of revenue through cancelling tours.

A hearing on whether he was unjustifiably dismissed was due late last month but was postponed by the Employment Relations Authority. In 2007, he was convicted of assaulting his former partner after he found her in bed with a man and woman.

- NZ Herald

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