A gamekeeper has been killed by a white tiger at the Zion Wildlife Park in Whangarei.
Dalu Mncube was a highly experienced handler, whose interactions with both lions and tigers, were a major draw card for the park.
Footage from "The Lion Man" series shows he trained animals, cajoling them into a form of obedience so he could work with them in front of the, adoring, public.
Dalu’s friend and colleague, Glen Holland, was head of Auckland Zoo for seven years, then was brought into Zion as a consultant in October of last year.
Mr Holland describes Dalu as “larger than life.”
“People enjoyed being with him, people enjoyed being around him, he had an incredible ability with the cats,” he says.
“The best that we’ve seen at the park.”
Mr Holland says Dalu became a close friend very quickly, and will be sorely missed.
He was unable to shed any light on exactly what went wrong before the tragic attack this morning.
It is understood that Dalu was busy cleaning the cage with another keeper when the animal - believed to be Abu, the park’s biggest white Bengali tiger - turned on him.
Mr Holland says the park will be working with Police, MAF and OSH to try and establish the full story tomorrow. He says distraught staff were struggling to relay all of the details earlier today.
Staff at the Zion Wildlife Park are a very close knit family, and that was the main reason Mr Holland agreed to assist the park when he started last year.
“Dalu was really the heartbeat of the whole lot – keeping everybody together,” he says.
Mr Holland says the park has put a lot of new protocols in place to ensure safety.
Dalu was the best of the lot, he says.
“For us it is unbelievable that this has happened, and it has happened so quickly.”