A tiger that killed a big cat handler at Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Park had attacked another man a month or so before it fatally mauled Dalu MnCube, a coroner's inquest has heard.

Big cat handler Martin Ferreira described today how a male tiger named Abu killed his colleague on May 27, 2009, after the pair had entered the tiger's enclosure to clean it.

Mr MnCube's death is being investigated by Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland this week, and Mr Ferreira was the first to give evidence.

He told the inquest that Abu had attacked and injured another man at the park a month or so before Mr MnCube was killed, and it was Mr MnCube who saved the man's life on that occasion.


He said after that, Abu did not seem as friendly.

Mr Ferreira said he and other staff were told by the park's operator at the time, Patricia Busch, that they should not be seen cleaning the big cats' enclosures when the park was being visited by officials from MAF.

Mr Ferreira said on the day of the fatal mauling, he and Mr MnCube had given a group of foreign tourists interaction with a young big cat, then went to clean the enclosure where Abu and a female, Rewa, were living.

The inquest heard that Abu came out of his den and grabbed Mr MnCube by the leg. Despite being hit, Abu did not let go.

Mr Ferreira joined in, and hit and punched the nose of the tiger.

Abu dragged Mr MnCube half way into his den as the cat handler called for help.

Mr Ferreira said he called for a fire extinguisher which was used to squirt the tiger through the rear of the den. The tiger re-emerged, this time dragging Mr MnCube by the back of the shoulder.

He was dragged along the fence line of the enclosure and mauled. Mr Ferreira said he was now hitting Abu with a stick and cattle prod - to no effect.

The inquest heard Abu then bit into Mr MnCube's head and crushed it. The tiger was shot and MnCube was pulled from the enclosure.

Mr Shortland said the purpose of the hearing was to determine how Mr MnCube died and make any recommendations to ensure "it can't happen again".

It would also determine whether the matter should be investigated further by other authorities.

The coroner's inquest is set to last at least until Thursday.