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The Lion Man’s shift to South Africa has upset the conservation community. Craig Busch has opened a new wildlife park near Rustenburg called Jabula Big Cat Sanctuary.

Lion Man Craig Busch
Craig Busch, with Zion the lion, at his wildlife park near Whangarei in 2007. © Brett Phibbs

A local conservationist who has worked with Busch before said he was surprised to hear he had set up a park in South Africa.

Fred Berrange of the Leopard Conservation Park worked with Busch on Lion Man: One World, which was filmed in South Africa, and said he found his methods to be different to how conservationists did things in his part of the world. “This guy is not really into conservation. He wants to promote himself, make money out of it at the cost of animals.”

Mr Berrange said he was with Busch when he took his now star lion Jabula as a cub. “He would beat Jabula while he was on the end of a chain to sit on a couch and watch television. That is not conservation. He declawed Jabula … we don’t do that [in South Africa], that’s not what we’re about.”

He said South African conservationists were focused on protecting animals in the wild, while Busch wanted to have his animals in cages on show for people. “We’ve got enough zoos in the world. Africa is about the wild animal here, and we try and keep that.” Mr Berrange’s park was a temporary home for animals found caught in traps or injured. They were all released back into the wild after rehabilitation, he said.


Louise Joubert, founder of Sanwild Wildlife Trust, an organisation that rehabilitates abused animals, told South African newspaper Rapport that she was critical of Busch’s plans for the sanctuary. “It is unnatural to tame wild animals,” she said.

Busch last week told Rapport he had left New Zealand because of “lies being told about me”. He said he didn’t tame lions. “You cannot tame a lion, but you can be its friend.”

The website for Jabula Big Cat Sanctuary says the park has four lions, two cheetahs and two tigers.

“Jabula Big Cat Sanctuary is home to the well-known Lion Man, Craig Busch,” the website says. “The sanctuary offers a variety of wildlife experiences including game drives, park tours, big cat interaction and a unique safari experience with the Lion Man.”

Attempts to contact Busch at Jabula Big Cat Sanctuary were unsuccessful.

Busch rose to fame as New Zealand’s Lion Man with a television series in 2004 based at Whangarei’s Zion Wildlife Gardens. In the decade since he has faced lengthy and costly legal proceedings between his mother Patricia Busch and himself over control of the park. In May 2009, big-cat handler Dalubuhle Ncube, also known as Clifford Dalu Mncube, or Dalu, was mauled to death by a male tiger named Abu after he and another handler entered its enclosure to clean it. The park has since changed hands and become the Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary, run by investment company Bolton Equities.

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