Keeper: Zion Wildlife Garden’s big cat handler Dalu Mncube with tigers Kahli and Indira. Dalu was mauled to death by a 260kg rare white royal Bengal tiger called Abu as he cleaned its enclosure.
The Department of Labour knew about safety concerns at Whangarei’s Zion Wildlife Park before keeper Dalu MnCube was mauled to death by a tiger but failed to act, a lawyer for the park claims.
Zion lawyer Steve Barter made the claim after a recent judgment issued by Auckland District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue in which she ordered the department to hand over further disclosures – documents which are, or may be, relevant to proving a case against someone – to the park.
The department has laid two charges – failing to take steps to prevent a hazard and failing to take steps to prevent harm – against the companies which ran the park after handler Dalu Mncube was mauled to death by a tiger at the park in May, 2009.
Mr Barter sought an order for the release of the disclosures after the department opposed it on the basis that they were not relevant.
Among the documents the department had failed to release were a summary of evidence, correspondence between its staff, Ministry of Agriculture and the park, and the Occupational Health and Safety investigation report.
Mr Barter argued that all the documents sought tended to support or rebut, or have a bearing on the case against his clients, Zion Wildlife Gardens and Zion Wildlife Services.
In its draft summary of facts, the department said Mr Barter’s clients should have installed a double door or gate system and den boxes to all enclosures and employees should have secured the big cats before entering their enclosures.
But Mr Barter said all safety precautions amounted to a claim by the department that “all practicable steps” constituted an overriding prohibition on human interaction with the big cats.
He said MAF audited and signed off all the enclosures and permitted keepers to enter them after adequate training.
When Mr MnCube died, MAF and the department had yet to ascertain what steps they considered practicable to minimise interaction, Mr Barter said.
“A pattern of interaction existed between the informant [department] and the defendants [Zion], whereby the informant had knowledge of other incidents regarding safety at the park.
“The informant failed to take any steps, or recommend that the defendants take any further steps deemed ‘practicable’, such as ceasing interactions,” Mr Barter claimed.
He said both departments considered an application for a temporary transfer of tigers involving human interaction with Mr MnCube when he died and as such, did not consider that a stop to human interaction to be a practicable step.
Judge Doogue’s decision clears the way for the case to be heard.
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