Dalu Mncube, a South African keeper at Zion Wildlife Gardens Whangarei, entered the white tiger enclosure this morning and was mauled to death in front of a group of horrified French and British tourists.
Zoo staff were unable to free the keeper in time and he died in the enclosure, the tiger was destroyed soon after.
This was the third mauling incident at the park in the last year.
In a cruel twist of fate Mr Mncube bravely prised apart the mouth of the same tiger in February when it savaged Demetri Price.
Demetri Price, a senior zoo-keeper, laughed off the attack at the time, saying he had "no worry at all" about the zoo's safety.
"The danger involved in this kind of work ... is all relative," he told NZ television. "The way we go about this kind of work, generally you are pretty damn safe," he said.
(she) knew that if she screamed it would wake the rest of the pack and she would be killed, so she quietly worked to free her hands from the piercing bite of 18 month old Timba, the lion. Lisa, of Gullane, East Lothian, said: "I was stroking Timba's nose when he just grabbed my hand. His teeth were razorsharp and went straight through my skin." Later she added, "My hands were so swollen, I thought they were going to explode."
The park was later criticised after Mr Busch failed to tell the Dept of Labour about the attack.
Care and Safety Standards Had Slipped
The park had been made famous by the TV series 'Lion Man'. According to the 'Australian' the Lion Man TV series "followed the work of Craig Busch, who was dismissed from the park controlled by his mother last year.
On Tuesday, Busch claimed in a court hearing over his dismissal that animal care and safety standards had slipped at the park since the breakdown of his relationship with his mother.
"I became very concerned with animal welfare issues," he said.
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry documents released to Television New Zealand last year expressed concerns over animals kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
Inspectors were at one stage so concerned by conditions at Zion Wildlife Gardens they considered having 40 lions and tigers put down."
"Things started really coming apart after they got the last tape off from the third [television] series," Mr Busch said at an Employment Relations Authority hearing yesterday.
"After that, they stopped staff from working with me, they wouldn't let me discuss anything with them about the park. I became very concerned with animal welfare issues."
A Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry investigation expressed concern that animals were kept in crowded, insanitary conditions.
Mr Busch's lawyer Daniel Erickson today refuted reports that an ERA hearing was under way at the park at the time of today's attack. Mr Erickson acknowledged that one of the issues raised at the authority by Mr Busch yesterday was safety."
It seems that no lessons were learned from the two recent near misses and this incident is going to raise serious questions about workplace health safety provisions and practices at the zoo. Why exactly weren't more stringent precautions being taken with a tiger that had already attacked a human?
At present the park is closed and legal proceedings may well follow.
It's an absolute tragedy that both a man and a rare tiger have lost their lives in what may well have been a totally preventable, if not foreseeable, incident. Wildlife parks should be about conservation, not treating wild animals like circus performers, leading cubs around on leashes and getting into enclosures with dangerous top predators. Enough of it - either return the park to a genuine conservation facility or close it down and re-home the 'side-shows' to facilities that know how to treat them properly.
What right has a conservation organisation got to shoot an animal for doing what comes naturally?
A big cat mauling also occurred at Wellington Zoo in January 2006, when an unlocked door allowed 2 lions to get into an enclosure whilst the keeper, Bob Bennett, was setting out food. He too was mauled in front of shocked visitors and spent three days in hospital following the 20 minute attack