Tiger not locked away day of fatal mauling

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Dalu Mncube. Photo / File
Dalu Mncube. Photo / File

A big-cat handler fatally mauled to death by a tiger did not see a need to lock the animal away while cleaning its enclosure, a coronial inquest has heard.

Handler Martin Ferreira was with headkeeper Dalu MnCube at Zion Wildlife Gardens when the latter was killed.

Mr MnCube, a 26-year-old born in Zimbabwean, was employed at the park - home of TV's The Lionman series - when he was killed by a white male Bengal tiger Abu on May 27, 2009.

The inquest into the death of Mr Mncube began before Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland at Whangarei District Court yesterday afternoon.

Giving evidence at the inquest today in Whangarei, Mr Ferreira said in hindsight, a taser or something lighter should have been made available in the big cat enclosure to keep trainers safe.

He was aware that Zion had a safety manual in place in terms of securing big cats but said the practice ceased between February and May 2009, even after a man was injured and attacked by the tiger named Abu that killed Mr MnCube.

After the first attack, prior to Mr MnCube's death, Mr Ferreira said it was normal to lock Abu away, but it was not done on May 27, 2009 - the day Mr MnCube was fatally mauled.

He asked Mr MnCube prior to entering the enclosure whether Abu had been locked away.

"He (Mr MnCube) answered me like, 'I know what I am doing'.''

Mr Ferreira said he took Mr MnCube's word for it.

The inquest earlier heard in horrific detail how Abu came out of its den and grabbed Mr MnCube by the leg, mauling him and dragging him back towards its den. As Mr MnCube yelled for help, Mr Ferreira used a stick then a fire extinguisher in a bid to force the tiger to release the injured keeper.

Looking back on the incident, he said there was a better way of dealing with Abu than a fire extinguisher.

Patricia Busch, mother of Lionman Craig Busch, is also due to give evidence today in the inquest.

Yesterday, big cat handler Martin Ferreira described how he heard Abu crush the head of his colleague Mr Mncube after the pair had entered the enclosure Abu shared with a female tiger Rewa to clean it on May 27, 2009.

Mr Ferreira also revealed that Abu had attacked and injured another man a month or so before the fatal attack and that the tiger had not seemed as friendly after that incident.

Three other eye witnesses to the fatal attack are also due to give evidence during the week-long hearing.

Coroner Shortland said he would reserve his findings in the case.

Craig Busch and his mother Patricia were involved in a bitter dispute over ownership of the park at the time of Mr Mncube's death and the park has been taken over by new owners after going into liquidation last year.

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