There were hopes that the “lion man” was gone for good, but he’s back


Ethan Hughes was three years old when he was attacked during a family visit to Zion Wildlife Park

By Amanda Gillies

This week’s inquest into a big cat handler mauled to death by a tiger has brought back painful memories for an Auckland family.

The Hughes family visited the Zion Wildlife Park six years ago. Their trip was organised after their dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and was supposed to be a special time for the family.

Instead they ended up at hospital after their three-year-old was mauled by a lion.

Ethan Hughes is an adventurous boy. He’s into everything and not afraid of much, except lions and tigers.

“I don’t like them,” he says, “because one attacked me.”

In 2006 his dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour and told he had less than a year to live, so he treated the family to a special day at the Zion Wildlife Park.

Ethan’s mum and older brother signed up to pat the lions, filling out a safety waiver.

But then the zoo handler, Dalu Mncube, asked if Ethan wanted to pat a cub. Ethan tried but was scared, and asked his dad to pick him up.

“The cub swung around and grabbed Ethan with his front paws and pulled him to the ground,” says mother Nicola Hughes.

His dad didn’t want to pull back too hard, fearing Ethan would lose his leg, so instead he crouched over his son while Mr Mncube and two co-workers – one armed with a spade – dragged the one-year-old lion away.

“I turned around, dropped everything, dove in and punched this thing in the mouth,” says Ms Hughes. “I got a tooth in my hand. But I just kept punching it.”

Ethan, oozing blood and flesh from his legs, was admitted to hospital and underwent surgery.

“Peter, who had just had a brain operation, was lying on the floor of the hospital beside Ethan’s bed so he could look after him,” says Ms Hughes.

She says the park’s owner at the time, ‘Lion Man’ Craig Busch, was informed but they never heard from him or saw him.

Ms Hughes says that makes her feel “pretty angry”.

“And it has done since the day it happened,” she says.

She wanted to speak out back then but her husband said no. He didn’t want to hurt the popular Lion Man’s image.

Peter Hughes eventually died in May 2009, a day after Mr Mncube was mauled to death by a tiger at the park.

Craig Busch is now back working there, and Ms Hughes says that also makes her angry.

“It angers me knowing that he is back at the park and he’s doing it all again, he just doesn’t care.”

Craig Busch wouldn’t return calls from 3 News about the incident.

But Ms Hughes has kept the blood-stained and torn shorts her son wore on the day he was attacked, and Ethan still has the scars.

Read more:



Craig Busch is back at Kingdom of Zion

for more episodes of “People Being Stupid with Big Cats”

Lion Man


HOME AGAIN: After three years away, Lion Man Craig Busch is back with the lions.

Craig “The Lion Man” Busch has told of his pride and joy in being back with his big cats, at the renamed Kingdom of Zion wildlife park.

Busch is this weekend celebrating the official reopening of the park, on the outskirts of Whangarei.

Yesterday he invited Sunday News into the big cat reserve for a special behind-the-scenes tour.

In between mingling with well-wishers, he said: “To be back here is unreal … it took about a week to actually realise that I am home.

“The minute I did get here, they [big cats] realised dad was home. They must have roared for about two days.

“It is like a lion orchestra … an orchestra that is absolutely beautiful.”

In January, it was confirmed Busch – who set up the park in 2002, handed control to his mother Patricia Busch in 2006, and whose employment there ended two years later – would return to Zion.

His return followed the park’s sale by receivers to new owners.

After being away from the park – and its remaining 35 lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopard and serval – for three years, Craig Busch said there were still moments he pinched himself to reassure him he really was back.

“I live for these animals,” he said. “My whole life is used up on these guys because that is what I believe in.”

Busch’s “lion orchestra” roared with apparent glee during his three-hour escorted tour around the park’s sprawling grounds for Sunday News yesterday.

He also showed his bond with his “best mate”, Zion the lion.

“He is the most special lion here … and the most different,” Busch said.

“He is very protective of his dad. He doesn’t like other people too close to me or any other lion. And no matter where I am, myself and him can feel each other.”

The big cat park’s name has changed from Zion Wildlife Gardens to Kingdom of Zion during his absence.

“I love the name Kingdom of Zion. It suits the park and gives that sort of Disney-kind of feel to the park,” Busch said. “And if you look at some of the cats, they are almost like characters of Disney.

“It is what it means to me … it is a paradise for the cats and the people who come here.”

Busch was committed to continuing the big cats’ welfare, and adding some new features to the park. “It will be a park that will be themed into different settings, from where the animal’s origins is.

“I am one man doing many things. And all the dreams come from my head. Good things take time … it revolves around money and manpower.”

Before his return, Busch spent time in South Africa, including helping promote conservation attempts to save the white rhino from poachers.

He said even while thousands of kilometres away from “home”, Zion’s big cats had been ever in his heart.

“It has been on my mind every second and every minute of every day,” he said.

Busch thanked staunch supporters for helping him return to the park, including 76,000 fans on his official Facebook page.

“They have given a lot of support over the time. There are so many people around the world that actually believe in what I do and love what I do. I am very lucky to have that following and I am very grateful.”


Busch has confirmed he is in talks with prospective broadcasters about an imminent return to reality TV.

Busch found worldwide fame and acclaim as star of The Lion Man television series, which gave big cat fans an insight into his animal handling skills and life behind the scenes at the Zion wildlife park.

While filming ceased on The Lion Man in the mid-2000s, repeats of the show are still being played in more than 100 countries around the world.

“There will be another Lion Man show … there will be quite a few,” Busch said.

“I am talking to different ones [broadcasters] around the world and I have not made a decision yet.”

A film crew was on site yesterday, filming Busch’s interaction with his big cats and scores of fans who attended the Kingdom of Zion’s official reopening over Easter weekend. During his three-year absence from the park, Busch also completed some filming in the wild in South Africa.

“I am going to do filming for the rest of my life,” he said.

“I didn’t use to like it when I first started years ago. But now I enjoy it. I think it is a necessary thing to actually help educate and teach people around the world.

“If people can learn from that, that will actually put a smile on my face.”

Asked the secret behind The Lion Man’s success, Busch replied: “It is real … and the realness shows – it shows on screen.”


Craig Busch is a TV personality affiliated with Zion Wildlife Gardens in New Zealand ( Their homepage has a montage of him kissing a white tiger and interacting with other big cats.

Lion and Tiger Kept Frozen so Lion Man Could Use Them for TV Props

BY NEIL REID – Sunday News

Last updated 05:00 24/10/2010


Craig “Lion Man” Busch


Patricia Busch claims former circus lion Samson was kept frozen next to pet food for seven months by her son.

FUR is continuing to fly at Zion Wildlife Gardens with the release of a shocking photograph of a dead male lion lying in a freezer next to racks of meat.

The image was released on Zion’s official website by Patricia Busch, who took over running of the Northland park from her son Craig “Lion Man” Busch in 2006 and dismissed him two years later.

On the website, Patricia claims the dead big cat – former circus lion Samson – was kept frozen next to pet food for seven months by her son, who prevented her arranging a burial.

Patricia further claims Craig also kept the body of young white tiger Khan frozen “for some time”, only to thaw the cat out for a show-stopping burial scene on his hit TV series The Lion Man.

Through a spokeswoman, Craig has rejected the claims made about both Samson and Khan.

The spokeswoman said Samson was “euthanised” on Patricia’s orders when Craig was away from the park, north of Whangarei.

She said Samson stayed in the freezer for the seven months because Patricia had instructed staff “not to work with Craig” and he was not physically able to move the lion’s dead body by himself.

On the Zion website, Patricia said Craig had Khan euthanised because the tiger was deformed from inbreeding.

“He then proceeded to put Khan in the freezer for some time only to thaw him out when The Lion Man commenced as he said the burial would make a good TV story,” Patricia said.

“His actions regarding the postponement of Khan’s funeral affected members of the team.”

But Craig’s spokeswoman said Khan was euthanised “on advice from the park vet”.

“It is correct to say that he had medical issues since birth.

“To say that these arose from inbreeding is not,” the spokeswoman said.

Of Khan’s being kept frozen, she said: “Unfortunately it is fact of life that bodies, animal and human, are kept in refrigeration after death and pending burial.

“Craig wanted to find an appropriate burial site for Khan and he needed time to grieve.

“Since the viewers of The Lion Man had followed the story of Khan, it seemed appropriate to film the burial ceremony so that they might have closure.”

Khan died about a year before Craig was dismissed.

The continued spat between Patricia and her son comes just days before the next court hearing over the fatal mauling of Zion big-cat handler Dalu Mncube.

Mncube was fatally attacked by white tiger Abu on May 26, 2009. The big cat was put down.

The Department of Labour laid a charge against Zion Wildlife Services Ltd for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work.

It has also charged Zion Wildlife Gardens Ltd with a count of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no hazard that is in the place of work harms people who are lawfully at work as employees of a contractor.

The case will be heard at Whangarei District Court on November 1. If found guilty, Zion could face a fine of up to $250,000 on each charge, including orders to pay reparations to Dalu’s family.

Ten days ago Bengal tiger Sita was killed in a clash with male tiger Jahdu at Zion.


Lion Man Out, MAF [Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry] Investigates Declawing

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Lion Man Craig Busch’s licence to operate Zion Wildlife Gardens has been revoked after his loving mum Patricia (manager of the lion park) told MAF that he was no longer employed by the park. He has been replaced as licensed operator by former Auckland Zoo manager Glen Holland.

Philip Smith from Great Southern Television insists that the cats will be back on our television screens in some shape or form. He told TV3

“The story is always about the preservation and conservation, that’s the story and no man or person is bigger than that story.”

I must have been watching a different show. What I saw was focused around Craig – the way he interacted with the lions, trained the lions, cuddled and played with the lions.

Court Battle Between Craig And His Mum

Next week, Craig and Patricia Busch go head to head in court in a civil claim that Craig has set up a competing website selling Lion Man merchandising and asking for donations to help his conservation
efforts. Lion Man producers Great Southern Television are partnered with Patricia to produce The Lion Man television program and profit from the merchandising. They allege Craig is making false claims that his site is the “official site” of the Lion Man.

Does anyone else find the timing suspicious? Mum is going into court next week claiming that their website is the official one, and what better proof than ousting the man known as “The Lion Man” from his role at the park?

MAF Investigation To Date

TVNZ say that a report from MAF described the arguments between Craig and Patricia as childish and MAF were concerned about the welfare of the big cats after claims that Craig had changes the locks on enclosures and a sick tiger couldn’t be attended to for five days. They also listed several other concerns including insanitary conditions

Neighbours report that the police have been called out on several occasions, including a false alarm last weekend that someone was attempting to remove gates from the wildlife park.

Patricia has also made claims that she was abused by Craig and rumour has it she attempted to take out a restraining order against him.

MAF Investigating De-clawing

Most of the concerns raised by MAF have been remedied, however they are still investigating one matter. According to TVNZ, MAF is investigating de-clawing, which was described in the report as an
unnecessary practice. MAF are investigating both the lion park and the vet that de-clawed the big cats. Ex employees of Zion Wildlife Gardens have confirmed to that many of the cats have been de-clawed.

Park Still Open to Visitors

But there is good news for people hoping to visit the park. New operator Glen Holland told TV3 that he believes the park is in good shape and that he is satisfied with the condition of the animals, the
enclosures and the training the staff have received.

Animal cruelty allegations made against Busch

Published: 6:24PM Sunday May 31, 2009

Serious allegations, including claims of animal cruelty, have been made against TV’s world famous Lion Man.

ONE News has obtained documents, and spoken to workers at the Zion Wildlife Gardens, about occasions when big cats were hurt and people put at risk over a period of five years.

The allegations surfaced after Craig Busch publicly criticised safety standards at Zion, following the fatal mauling of a keeper last week.

ONE News has spoken to staff who claim Busch cruelly killed unwanted cubs.

One worker claims he saw Busch put a cub down using a rock the size of a softball.

“He lay the cub on the ground…he was in a standing position and he threw the rock down on the ground onto the cub. It took three or four times before he was satisfied it was dead, cause he actually… semi missed&he clipped it cause I remember seeing the thing bounce with the impact of the rock,” alleges one anonymous worker.

ONE News put these specific allegations to Busch. He declined to appear on camera, but through a spokesperson says he denies he has ever mistreated any animals.

Earlier in the week at a press conference Busch was adamant the welfare of the cats was a top priority.

“There is no way I am going to allow those tigers or any cat there get put down, no way,” he says.

Busch also claimed safety standards at Zion Wildlife Gardens have slipped since he was sacked last year.

“They need to pull their socks up.”

However some staff allege last October it was Busch who put lives at risk insisting two keepers run alongside a tiger on a lead as part of training.

Staff spoken to by ONE News say running with a cat can incite it to attack. In one case a tiger did just that, biting a worker.

“The tiger jumped him down on the first run and went over to grab him by the throat, lucky I was there and I hit the tiger a few times,” says the worker.

A third park worker alleges he saw Busch beat two of the cats with a short wooden handle.

“He laid into it and laid into and laid into.. the male lion come and laid on top of her to guard her cause she was whimpering … and he said ‘you want some too’ and gave him a couple of blows too.”

Staff spoken to by ONE News say they didn’t speak up at the time because they were scared to do so.


Handler tried to fight tiger as mate mauled to death


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 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 staff member 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 one could tell if 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 animals’ 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 down for up to five days.

– Northern Advocate staff  10/4/12