A potential buyer has been found for Whangarei’s world-famous Zion Wildlife Gardens.
However, confusion over who controls the 36 endangered big cats means the sale can’t go ahead until the High Court sorts the matter out.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the receivers, on behalf of Rabobank, yesterday confirmed an offer had been made to buy Zion – home of TV series The Lion Man – and its assets, including the animals, as a going concern.
The receivers have filed an urgent application in the High Court at Auckland for clarification on matters surrounding the operator’s licence, at the moment held by Patricia Busch.
However, Rabobank has put in a separate application seeking the court’s leave to either remove the animals from Zion by February 3 or to euthanise them if not granted the first application.
The High Court will today set a hearing date on matters pertaining to control of the animals to enable the sale of the park and its assets.
The animals’ ownership is under dispute, and a hearing in the High Court at Whangarei next month will rule whether the big cats can be sold, traded or be put under receivership.
PwC partner and receiver Colin McCloy said the court application today was intended to support the park’s sale.
“The receivers believe the offer represents good value and the best option to preserve the operation of the park and the welfare of the animals. However, existing court directions need to be varied to support the sale process. As a result, the receivers have applied to the court to have the existing directions varied,” Mr McCloy said.
He refused to say who the interested party was or comment on the ongoing sale process.
Lion Man and former park operator Craig Busch earlier confirmed making an offer to buy back Zion, but his spokeswoman, Jill Albrow, yesterday refused to say whether the receivers had accepted his proposal.
PwC’s actions have angered Evgeny Orlov, lawyer for park operator Patricia Busch, who said the separate application, which could lead to the animals’ death, was an abuse of court orders and an interference with the animals: “To ask for an order to kill these animals is shocking. It’s a tactical move to pull the rug under us.”
Mr Orlov said an earlier court injunction ordered Mrs Busch to allow the receivers in, but that she should look after the animals.
He will argue today that the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the application nor does Rabobank have the right to ask for any order over the animals.
Mr Orlov said the most tragic aspect was that the animals facing destruction were highly endangered and protected by international conventions.
He said Rabobank could have removed the receivers, sold the land, and freed the park from debt.
“I even wrote to the bank and said Patricia is happy to move the animals away. You keep the park and land and give us six months to move the animals away but they refused to talk to us.”
Mr Orlov said he had been talking to overseas investors about opening a park where the big cats could be transferred.