Dalu Mncube with colleague Napoleon 'Martin' Ferreira.
A clear and grisly account has emerged of the death of
Dalu Mncube under the giant claws and teeth of a white tiger.
Brave big-cat handler Martin Ferreira punched and whacked the
attacking tiger, Abu. He also sprayed Abu's face with a fire
extinguisher and another staff member zapped the cat with a
cattle prodder, but nothing quelled the lethal onslaught.
Ferreira's bravery at Zion Wildlife Park is a bright spot in
a sad and gruesome coroner's decision on Mncube's death on
May 27, 2009.
Coroner Brandt Shortland described Ferreira as selfless.
Another tiger, Rewa, was in the enclosure and could have
joined the attack.
Ferreira, 41, told the Herald on Sunday that the day had
started like any other. He'd opened his Bible at Psalm 23.
"It was about how you will go though the valley of the shadow
of death but God will keep his hand over you." He had
wondered to his wife, Liana: "Why this particular passage?"
That night he knew.
"The Lord gave me a warning, that he was going to help me at
a difficult time."
He had five years' experience with lions in his native South
Africa before going to work at Zion, on the northern
outskirts of Whangarei, in 2008.
Shortland's report outlines how Mncube and Ferreira had gone
into the enclosure to clean. It was accepted practice for
keepers to enter enclosures with cats, and was permitted by
law. Shortland said it was also controversial because big
cats were isolated during cleaning at other parks.
The attack had begun as Abu bit on Mncube's leg. "Martin,
help me please," Mncube, 30, had calmly said. Abu had begun
growling and, despite Ferreira's blows, dragged Mncube by the
shoulder towards his den. Then he had bitten Mncube's head.
Armed only with a cattle prod, Ferreira had approached Mncube
when Abu had moved away. Another worker had shot Abu, and
Mncube was taken out by ute, but it was too late to save him.
Ferreira, who shot and killed Abu, said his actions had been
automatic. "I didn't really think about my own safety. I was
trying to help Dalu."
He said he felt for Mncube's partner Sharon Arnott and their
child, Starskea. "In the beginning it was really difficult.
For the first few months going to sleep, it played over and
over. It slowly got better and these days I don't think about
it much." The experience had taught him life was short and to
make the most of it.
Now dairy farming in Southland, the father of two said he
still missed working with big cats.
Tidy up zoo laws, coroner urges
Zion Wildlife Park was a mess before Dalu Mncube died.
That's the view of Zion's government-appointed operator Glen
Holland - a former Auckland Zoo keeper brought in when a rift
between Zion founder Craig Busch and his mother, Patricia
Busch, forced Craig out.
Holland told Coroner Brandt Shortland that he was staggered
by the culture of Zion, but said Mncube was possibly the best
big-cat handler he'd ever met.
After his November 2008 appointment, Holland introduced
safety protocols aimed at keeping cats and people separate.
Shortland's report blamed no one for Mncube's death but
recommended that zoo laws be tidied.
Zoos were currently subject to three acts, making it complex
and unworkable at times, he said.
- by Kathryn Powley of the Herald on Sunday