Zoo troubleshooter Tim Husband has been hired to sort out the Zion Wildlife Gardens in Whangarei, where a keeper was killed by a tiger last month.

He has a three-month contract to fix safety concerns and get the place re-opened so customers can see its 40 big cats.

After keeper Dalu Mncube's death on May 27, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry closed the park until it was satisfied it was well managed and the animals' welfare was not compromised.

The Department of Labour has served Zion management with two improvement notices - one requiring the park to meet MAF standards for fencing, the other concerning measures to protect staff where segregation from animals is not possible.

Mr Husband, who was raised in Whangarei, left Tikipunga High School at 14 but returned to studies as an adult and gained a degree in zoology.

He and wife Wendy run Zooworks in New South Wales, doing consultancy work in Australian and Asian zoos.

He has a reputation as a hard-headed administrator.

"I don't muck around. I was called the aggressive curator on one job. I go in and cut the fat," he said yesterday. "I'm there for the animals, not the people - people bore me.

"We need to get the park open again as quickly as possible. The animals will be forgotten if the place stays closed."

Mr Husband will replace Zion manager Glen Holland, who is believed to be going to South Africa after working at the Whangarei wildlife park since October last year.

Zion keepers might need retraining, but Mr Husband said he had not had a chance to assess their skills.

Mr Mncube's death was big news in zoos around the world, partly because of "Lion Man" Craig Busch's high profile.

Stories had been circulating about Mr Busch's personal problems and his dispute with his mother, Patricia, who sacked him.

"You shy away from that type of thing," Mr Husband said. "There's no conservation values going on there."

He was undaunted by the prospect of working at Zion. "I've had messier jobs than this."

He had put aside other projects to take on the Zion job. "I've got other work I've got to get back to, but I'm confident that in three months everything will be fine and the park will be open again."

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE