Lion Man's Zion bid

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Lion Man, Craig Busch. Photo / Supplied
Lion Man, Craig Busch. Photo / Supplied

Lion Man Craig Busch wants to open talks with receivers to regain control of the big cats at Zion Wildlife Gardens.

Receivers Pricewaterhouse-Coopers were allowed into the Whangarei park this week after being kept at bay by Craig's mother Patricia, who has had control after an acrimonious split with her son.

A spokeswoman for Craig Busch, Jill Albrow, said his lawyer Noel King, of Auckland, had contacted the receivers with three proposals, including a negotiable unconditional cash offer for the park.

"If they do not wish to sell to Craig, he has put a proposal to take all 37 cats to another location," Albrow said.

"Craig has also offered to lease the park from the receivers immediately, to be at the park and pay for the care and welfare of the cats while these issues can be settled."

The receivers have refused to discuss the situation, though it is understood they are working with debts of about $2 million. A major issue for them will be sorting out who owns the big cats.

Craig Busch claims they belong to him and has a court injunction that says the animals cannot be disposed of without a judge's consent.

His mother is disputing the ownership and has another court order prohibiting the receivers from either evicting her from Zion or interfering with the animals.

Albrow, a friend of Craig's, was not able to say how much money he had to attempt to get back into the park.

"We have done some fundraising but I'm not sure how well we've done," she said. She acknowledged he had outstanding debts. "There are disputes with the claimed debts against Craig. Each will be dealt with individually once the park has been returned to Craig and the cats are safe."

Busch was back in the country after a visit to South Africa, though Albrow said he was not in Northland but she would not say what he had been doing.

His mother appeared to offer an olive branch this week, but Albrow said she suspected "things have gone too far".

Patricia Busch said Craig should call her if he wanted a way back in. "It would save the cats if he was to do that. I am easygoing." But she said as far as she was aware, Craig had not contacted the receivers.

Meanwhile, a Whangarei expert believes the animals will be sold once their ownership is proved.

Whangarei liquidator Steve Bennett said: "They'll [the big cats] probably be sold but it's not something for which you ring a stock agent and say 'I've got five tigers for sale' so that will pose some problems.

"The receivers may sell off land, building and the business as one package or may also include the animals but it's quite difficult."

Former park owner Tim Husband thought the major issue in trying to rehouse the cats would be the fact 29 had been subject to a "barbaric declawing".

"It would make it hard to find homes for them."

The 29 were declawed by veterinarians under Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry supervision in 2009 and it attracted criticism from Husband and other zoo experts.

A major asset of the park is its nearly 50ha of land.

A recent inspection by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries found no animal welfare breaches.

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