'Lion Man' shocked at tiger's fatal attack on keeper

'Lion Man' Craig Busch says he'll assist police in any way possible after a white tiger mauled to death a keeper at the Zion Wildlife Park in Whangarei today.

The attack was witnessed by eight French and English tourists.

A witness, who declined to be named, said the attack was "very, very frightening".

Police said the keeper suffered injuries to the abdomen and lower leg which were received by "tearing" by a big cat.

Two keepers had gone into the white tiger enclosure about 11am today when one of the two tigers in the enclosure attacked a male keeper.

Despite the best efforts of the second keeper and a rapid response from other wildlife park staff, the tiger would not let the park worker go and he died at the scene.

The tiger was destroyed by wildlife park staff.

Mr Busch described the attack as "a terrible personal blow for me as I knew the keeper well.

"My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues. Obviously I also know all the animals at the park which are owned by my Wildlife Trust, and I am deeply upset at the news of this attack."

Police will not be releasing the keeper's name until next of kin have been advised.

Police and OSH staff are investigating the incident which is believed to have been witnessed by a group of eight overseas tourists.

Four police officers were at the scene, and ambulance staff have now left.

Victim Support staff have been called to the scene to help the distressed park staff and visitors. The park has now been closed to visitors.

MAF and the Coroner have also been advised.

Staff at the park, which holds 42 lions and tigers, will release a statement later today.

Police are at the scene.

If it is a Royal White tiger, then it would be a blow to the Wildlife park.

There are only 120 Royal White tigers left in the world and the tiger, a sub-species of the Bengal tiger, is considered extinct in the wild.

Series of incidents

There have been two previous reported attacks at the zoo, which houses 42 rare lions and tigers.

In February, a man was savaged by a "large cat" and required surgery.

He was bitten on the knee by the animal.

Last year, a Scottish teenager was left scarred for life after being attacked by a lion.

Lisa Baxter, 19, of Gullane, was working at working at the zoo on April 23 when Timba, an African white lion, sunk his teeth into both her hands after she put them through a hole in the fence, designed for television cameras, to stroke a cub.

The Wildlife Gardens website lists its white tigers as Jahdu, Rewa, Abu and Tygo, all Royal White Tigers.

"Each has its own very distinct personality. The only female, Rewa, carries the solid white gene and has already produced New Zealand's first two Royal White tiger cubs in late January 2005."

It describes itself as a "tranquil countryside retreat" near Whangarei in Northland, New Zealand, and is home to television's Lionman - Craig Busch.

Just yesterday, Mr Busch gave evidence at an investigative meeting before Employment Relations Authority member Yvonne Oldfield into his claim for reinstatement to his job at Zion Wildlife Gardens in Whangarei.

There were Ms Oldfield was in the park today at the time of the incident.

But Mr Busch s lawyer Daniel Erickson said that contrary to media reports there was no one from the Employment Relations Authority at the park at the time of the attack.

Mr Busch said he was dismissed from the Northland wildlife park which helped make him famous without notice and without being given any warnings.

- NZPA, NZ HERALD STAFF


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