The claws are out as television's Lion Man Craig Busch and his mother accuse each other of petty theft, after his troubled Northland wildlife park plunged $2 million into debt.
In a case before the High Court Craig Busch claims to have been so emotionally distressed that he didn't know what he was doing when he signed away film rights to material from his TVNZ series, The Lion Man.
But Patricia Busch claims she feared he would attack her as their rift widened this year, after she had earlier bailed the struggling business out.
Court documents have revealed for the first time the real extent of that rift. Zion Wildlife Gardens managing director Patricia Busch, 67, who mortgaged her farm to bail out the Kamo wildlife park, is demanding $3 million from her son and his companies as a final settlement of all debts.
As the two feud, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has been forced to intervene to protect the welfare of the 40 big cats, which inspectors said had been kept in unsanitary and crowded conditions at Zion Wildlife Gardens. At one stage inspectors even considered putting cats down if they had to close the park.
Craig Busch, 43, has accused his mother of refusing to pay for straw and the construction of a shelter for an injured lioness - an allegation she has vehemently denied. "I would never refuse expenditure on items affecting animal welfare," she said.
As the park struggled to pay its way over the past couple of years, she alleged her son bought a Transit Jumbo cat transporter, a Sumitomo digger, a Nissan Safari ute, a second-hand Isuzu ute, several jetskis and - with her American Express card - a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
There is no suggestion that the jetskis or motorbike were used for transporting lions or tigers.
Craig Busch, in documents filed with the High Court at Whangarei, said his mother had tried to sell the park, that she paid her personal bills from company accounts and had, literally, taken money from the till.
She also denied those allegations, instead accusing him of stealing the lion park's front-desk message book and other documents. She gave evidence that he put a stop to the high-value private park tours for wealthy tourists, one of the business' few remaining money-spinners, in a bid to regain control of the park.
Craig Busch was last year convicted of two counts of assault against his former girlfriend, Karen Greybrook, after finding her semi-naked in bed with another couple in 2005.
His mother said she moved to support him, and to help with the business, but did not realise for many months how much financial trouble her son was in.
That was not the only trouble, she said.
"I engaged a security guard because I was genuinely in fear of my safety and that of other staff," Patricia Busch said in court evidence.
"Craig has verbally abused me and other staff. He appears to suffer from extreme mood swings. He is very intimidating physically."
The mother and son live only 20m apart at the park, he in a house and she in an unplumbed Portacom shed.
As relations deteriorated, Patricia Busch hired security guards, banned her son from parts of the park and suspended him as park operator, causing the loss of his MAF licence.
But he still collects a salary from the park. A neighbour said he was worried for Craig Busch.
"The guy's nothing without the lion park. He hasn't got the lion park any more, and he'll fight tooth and nail for that park."
MAF had concerns that the family rift was undermining Craig Busch's abilities to carry out his duties as park operator.
"We had concerns around the ability for him to perform his duties as an operator because of the internal rifts between him and Patricia," a spokeswoman said.
"It was a very unhealthy situation - we had to step in and give them a deadline."
Aside from one outstanding issue about declawing the big cats, she said MAF was now happy with the animals' upkeep.
"There were concerns about the tigers' and lions' young being in the same cage and they were starting to get sexually mature and show interest in other cats.
"The cats have been separated now so we won't be getting any ligers."
Busch's girlfriend, office manager Suzanne Eisenhut, lives with him in the house.
She told the court that they had been forced to call the police last weekend after the front gates were locked, trapping them in the park.
"I am concerned about the lack of access to and from the park," she said.
"Craig is currently recovering from an operation to repair his broken foot. He is on medication and is in a cast. He requires constant assistance."
Patricia Busch also called the police, who arrived in haste, worried that someone was trying to remove the gates from the lions' enclosure.
Meanwhile, the neighbours are aghast. One said: "It's very comical - Shortland Street has nothing on it."