A big-cat handler killed by a tiger at Whangarei's world famous Zion Wildlife Park did not see a need to lock the animal away while cleaning its enclosure, an inquest into the man's death has heard.
Martin Ferreira was with headkeeper Dalu MnCube at Zion when the latter was killed while they were cleaning out a tiger enclosure at the park in May 2009.
The inquest into the death of Clifford (Dalu) Mncube is being heard before Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland at Whangarei District Court this week.
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.
Today Mr Ferreira said in hindsight, a taser or something lighter should have been made available in the big cat enclosure.
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 attack prior to Mr MnCube's death, Mr Ferreira said it was a norm to lock Abu away but it was not done on that fateful day. 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 said he took Mr MnCube's word for it.
Then park operator Patricia Busch, mother of Lionman Craig Busch, who made the park famous around the world through the TV series The Lionman, also gave evidence today.
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.
She rejected accusations by Mr Ferreira that Zion staff were told not to go into animal enclosures when the park was being visited by MAF officials or not to admit being bitten by big cats.
A staff member who was attacked and injured by Abu about a month before Mr MnCube was killed had suggested the use of tasers but Mrs Busch said she did not know whether they could even be used in New Zealand.
She admitted discussing matters pertaining to risks with Mr MnCube but said she did not tell him not to enter Abu's enclosure without first locking Abu up.
Coroner Shortland said he would reserve his findings in the case.
A big-cat handler has told a coroner how he tried to fight off a tiger with his fists and a stick before using a fire extinguisher as his colleague was being mauled to death at Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Park.
Handler Martin Ferreira described how he heard a male tiger named Abu crush the head of his colleague, Dalu MnCube, after the pair had entered its enclosure to clean it on May 27, 2009. He also revealed that Abu had attacked another man a month or so before the fatal attack.
Mr MnCube's death is being investigated by Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland this week, with Mr Ferreira the first to give evidence after the hearing started yesterday.
Mr Ferreira said he and Mr MnCube had that day given tourists a chance to interact with a young big cat, then went to clean the enclosure where male tiger Abu and a female, Rewa, were living.
He said as the pair entered, Mr MnCube said "Hello Abu" and when the tiger came out of its den it went towards Mr MnCube and grabbed him by the leg.
Mr Ferreira said Abu had been de-clawed, but it had got Mr MnCube by its mouth and was holding on.
"He said 'Mate help me' so I hit Abu in the head and nose with my fists. I was screaming Horror fight to death described
at Abu to let him go," he said.
Another staffer was showing the tourists around the park, so Mr Ferreira used a stick to try to get the tiger to release Mr MnCube, then used a fire extinguisher.
In the meantime the tiger continued to maul Mr MnCube.
"He [Dalu] again said 'Please help me, this is serious' and Abu was trying to drag him into his den ... He was dragging [Dalu] around and the other tiger started coming towards him as well.
"I yelled at her to move away and continued to hit Abu. Abu put him down, then dragged him by the shoulder, then Abu grabbed him by the head. Abu's whole mouth covered his head, his fangs were on his neck. While Abu had him by the head, he was biting down on it. I could hear Abu crushing his head."
Another staffer came with a cattle prod and eventually the tiger let go and walked off to sit by his pool, covered in Mr MnCube's blood.
Mr MnCube was put into the back of a ute and taken to the park's front gates, where an ambulance had arrived, but he could not be saved. Abu was then shot.
Mr Ferreira said Abu had attacked and injured another man at the park a month or so earlier. Mr MnCube had saved the man's life on that occasion. After that, Abu had not seemed as friendly.
Mr Ferreira, who came to New Zealand from South Africa, where he also worked in big-cat parks, said that with experience you got to tell when a big cat was happy or not.
He 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 animal's enclosure when the park was being visited by MAF officials.
Mr Ferreira said that in the days before the tragedy, Lionman Craig Busch, who was in a dispute with his mother Patricia over control of the park, had threatened to expose Mr MnCube to Immigration, claiming the handler should not be in the country.
Mr Ferreira said this seemed to unsettle Mr MnCube and the park's staff were later told Dalu could be deported.
The inquest is set to last until Thursday at least.