NOTE: The website for New Zealand’s Zion Wildlife Gardens advertises its white lions and “Royal White” Bengal tigers. Since the white color comes from a double recessive gene, it can only be perpetuated in captivity by inbreeding and results in a great deal of suffering and health problems for the animals.
By TAMMY BUCKLEY – Sunday News | Sunday, 23 November 2008
Hit TV show The Lion Man has made its charismatic frontman Craig Busch a much-loved hero in more than 100 countries.
But with fur flying between Craig and mum Patricia over the running of Zion Wildlife Gardens home of 42 lions, tigers and other big cats he has told Sunday News he never wanted to do the reality series which catapulted him to fame.
“I’ve been doing things for a long time that I don’t even want to do. One of them is the TV show,” Craig said in an exclusive interview outside the Whangarei High Court where the latest episode in a legal catfight between him and his mother was being played out on Friday.
“I never wanted to do that (TV show). I did it … and who gets stomped over all the time? Me.”
Limping with a broken foot his latest misfortune Craig said he was “over everything” and would “love to go to Africa right now”.
“I should be there doing things for conservation. I shouldn’t be in a courtroom,” he said.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot and that’s all I’m going to do for the rest of my life.
“I want to see those (Zion big cats) right and I want, after I’m gone … to see them right, in the right hands.”
Craig has regularly hit the headlines since The Lion Man began in 2004 but not always for the right reasons.
In May last year he was convicted of assaulting his former partner and TV show co-star, Karen Greybrook, in 2005.
This year it was revealed Zion in Kamo, outside Whangarei has been investigated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
And the civil clash between Craig and Patricia, who both live in the lion park, hit the courts and the TV news.
MAF has spent three months looking at animal conditions at Zion, after big cats were allegedly found in unsanitary conditions and some in crowded enclosures.
Inspectors were reportedly at one stage considering having 40 of the animals put down. But things have since improved and by the end of September MAF was satisfied the park’s immediate animal welfare problems were resolved.
Craig said whoever made the suggestion to euthanise the big cats needed their “head read”.
“Why would you want to do that if they’re extinct in the wild?
“If anyone from MAF has said that, they need to be investigated,” he said.
Zion’s collection of big cats includes rare Barbary and white lions, and Bengal tigers.
The legal feud between Craig and his mother is ongoing.
Patricia has worked at the park since July 2006, when she moved to support her son while he was going through a difficult period in his life and invested in the park to keep it afloat.
But earlier this month, it was revealed she had suspended her son from running Zion taking the operation over and employing former Auckland Zoo chief Glen Holland as the park’s operator.
Last weekend Sunday News revealed how Craig has to phone his mum every time he, his partner and their visitors want to come and go from the lion park.
On Friday, Craig sought to regain control of Zion. At Whangarei High Court, his lawyer Wayne Peters sought an interim injunction against Patricia and associated companies listed as Country Developments Ltd, Wildlife Pictures Ltd and Primal Productions Ltd for allegedly breaking agreements.
The court was told Patricia raised a loan to repay Craig’s company and personal debt, and in exchange she was given power of attorney and sole directorship until he could repay the loan.
As part of the hearing, the judge Justice Paul Heath, court staff, Peters and Patricia’s lawyer, Campbell Walker, visited Zion on Friday morning.
Justice Heath reserved his decision when the legal argument wrapped up about 5pm.
Craig declined to comment on the court case with his mother.
“The best thing I can say, even though I’d like to say things, is no comment.”
But he did say he had incurred debt as a result of running Zion.
He said he was dedicated to the preservation of the endangered big cats.
“I’ve been busting my gut all my life for this and sure you incur debt,” he said.
“It’s a big thing, you’ve got a lot to support.
“You cannot go through a business like this and not incur debt.”
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org