Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary faces an uncertain future after it was placed in involuntary liquidation. Photo / Michael Cunningham
The Ministry for Primary Industries will provide advice where required but decisions about the next steps for Northland’s Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary and its animals rest with the owner and operator of the park.
Court has ordered the Whangārei-based park be put into involuntary liquidation, just over a year after it opened to the public after operators upgraded facilities, built significant new containment facilities, provided all that was required for animal welfare and maintain staffing at a level that could sustain public access. It had closed in 2014.
MPI deputy director general Vince Arbuckle said the ministry was seeking more information from the park owners and operators about liquidation proceedings.
“Since the facility opened to the public on November 12, 2021, MPI has regularly conducted onsite visits, with the welfare and safety of the animals a top priority.
“There have been no animal welfare issues identified since the facility opened to the public. Our last visit was early last week, and there are no containment or welfare concerns for the animals.
“Decisions about next steps for the park and cats will be the responsibility of those parties. MPI will provide advice where required,” Arbuckle said.
Creditors who may have claims over assets owned by Big Cats are being asked to contact the Official Assignee.
An involuntary liquidation is usually a court-ordered process brought about by petitioning creditors or shareholders who are owed money. The Northern Advocate has asked the Official Assignee, who is the liquidator for Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary, about the creditors.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE) referred the newspaper to the High Court to find details of the liquidation application.
Kamo Wildlife Sanctuary’s financial position and the fate of staff are unclear at this stage.
“The important thing is that the cats are fine and being looked after. Their welfare is unaffected,” director of Big Cats Limited Janette Vallance said.
“I’m working through several options at this point and will be in contact with people who have made bookings for the coming weeks.
“Negotiations are under way with the liquidator, Bolton Equities, and Robyn and Murray Bolton personally, as well as MPI.
“There can be no further comment at this time, but announcements will be made in the near future as matters become clearer,” she said.
The park has nine African lions, six Barbary lions – extinct in the wild – two Bengal tigers, and New Zealand’s only leopard.
Big Cats Ltd operated the park and money for operational expenses and asset investment came from Bolton Equities.
In a liquidation, the liquidator takes control of all the company’s unsecured assets, which are sold to repay the creditors.
Trading companies are usually closed down, although sometimes they may continue to trade for a short time so the business can be sold. If the business is closed, staff lose their jobs.
Those who lose their jobs can file a claim if they are owed any salary, wages, holiday pay or redundancy. Their claim may be considered preferential, which means they will be paid before unsecured creditors – if money is available.
Emergency financial assistance may be available from Work and Income, the local city mission or the food bank. Winz can also provide food vouchers to help with their immediate needs.
When the liquidation is complete, the company is removed from the Companies’ Office register.
The park has had a number of issues in the past two decades. It was once run by Craig Busch, famously known as The Lion Man, and his mother Patricia Busch under the name Zion Wildlife Gardens.
The mother and son were embroiled in a protracted legal battle over the park, including her suspending him from his job at the park. In 2009, big cat handler Dalu Mncube was mauled to death by a 260kg white tiger in an enclosure as horrified visitors watched.
In June 2011, Zion Wildlife Gardens went into receivership and into liquidation less than a month later on the applications of Rabobank and Inland Revenue Department respectively.
The business was bought by Earth Crest and then by Bolton Equities. MPI ordered the park closed between July 1 and July 31, 2014, while the animal enclosures were upgraded to meet new standards. MPI then extended the closure until August 31 of that year, but the upgrade had still not been completed by the first quarter of 2015.