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.