By Brendan O’Malley
September 08, 2006 12:00
A WILDLIFE handler has told how he confronted a 130kg lion after it escaped from its enclosure at a north Queensland zoo and coaxed it back.
Tim Husband locked 30 staff into a lodge on the Out of Africa Lion and Animal Reserve for an hour yesterday morning while he took on two-year-old lion Goldie.
Mr Husband, armed with a rifle, threw rocks at Goldie and shouted at him until the big cat eventually crawled back through a hole in his enclosure at the zoo, midway between Cairns and Mareeba, which is closed for upgrading.
The incident happened at 10.30am when a worker accidentally slashed a 50cm hole in the lion enclosure with a grass cutter.
“I had my rifle but I didn’t want to use it. It’s all about knowing your animals,” Mr Husband said.
“I’ve been handling animals for 28 years, ever since I left school.
“I also know Goldie very well. I had to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after he was born, and I nursed him through a snakebite.”
Mr Husband said that as soon as the lion was noticed outside its enclosure he put in place “standard procedures”, which included locking the wife of the zoo owner in her office and other staff into an accommodation lodge. Zoo animals were also locked in their enclosures.
Out of Africa was supposed to open in a few weeks, when new owner Udo Jattke finished replacing kilometres of fencing and cleaning up the run-down grounds.
However he said yesterday the zoo would not reopen until it was “110 per cent ready”.
“We’re well on schedule. The new fencing they have put in is great,” he said. “We regard this as a minor incident, and we will of course be inspected before we’re allowed to open.”
The zoo, formerly known as the Mareeba Wild Animal Park, went into liquidation in 2004 and its owner David Gill fled the country.
He had been pursued by the Department of Natural Resources for several breaches of the Land Protection Act, including the escape of a cheetah.
DNR land protection director Dr Bruce Wilson said it appeared that the zoo had complied with the department’s conditions, including reporting the incident and having an appropriate action plan, so it was unlikely to be fined.