woman's day 14 june 2010 issue

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Disgusted the bywav the Lion lvlan and his followersare treating her mum, CraigBusch's sister breaksher silence on the 'violent'man sheusedto idolise.- l

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t was one of the most successful homegrown TV shows of recent time catapulting its sunnyfaced star, ('Lion Man" Graig Busch, to fame in millions of households around the world. But behind the scenes it was a different story for those closestto him. "The fame got to Craighe changed,"says Craig'slittle sister MeganBusch,speaking publicly for the first time. "His egobecamehuge and he becameincreasinglyout of control. "I was my brother's biggest fan, but he has destroyed our family. The public will be shockedwhen they hear the way he'sbehavedbehind closeddoors,and the way he's treatedour mum."

The three-part Lion Man seriesshowcased Craig's work at Whangarei'sZion Wildlife Gardens the park he opened in 2003- which put New Zealand on the map for the conservationof endangered tigers and lions in more than 100countries,and made Craig an international celebrity. Then his world came crashing down when word got out that, in 2005, he'd attackedhis former partner of five years,Karen Greybrook, also a popular fixture on the TV series. The show was shelved, but more trouble followed.A park volunteer was reportedly bitten by a lion. Another worker was bitten by a tiger. Finally,lastMay,Zion'sbeloved South African senior cat

handler Dalu Mncube was fatally mauled to death by white tiger Abu - one of his most trusted charges. There was a MAF investigationinto the running of the park and the welfare of the big cats.Eighteenmonths ago MAF removed Craig's operatoriicence. Craig'selderly mother PatriciaBusch had already taken over the helm of Zion as the managing director. And so began the rapid decline of the man who was once promoted as New Zealand's answer to wildlife warrior CrocodileHunter Stevelrwin. A disillusionedCraig,45, left Zion for good last October. The last his family heard, Craig- with one failed marriage and four faiied engagements behind him - had proposed, yet again,to anotherwoman, and flown to the UK, then on to South Africa. Mum Pa'tricia heartbroken is - battling failing health, as well as death threats from Craig's supporters,she strugglesto keep her disgraced eldestson's dream alive. The 68-year-old single mother of three had imagined retiring in comfort on her farm in Cambridge. Instead,she's reluctantly inherited her troubled son's legacyof crippling financial problems and the huge responsibility of looking after 40 big cats. She'salsobeing dragged through the courts by her

embitteredson, amid ailegationsof stolen park property, an employment relationsissue,and a personal grievanceclaim flled by Craig. The Lion Man's devoted, Iargely female followers have accusedPatriciaof wrestling Zionfrom her son. But Craig's sister Megan - who appearedin the series- says nothing could be further from the truth. "Mum's given up everything for Craig,"she says."Since she moved to Zion to bail him out and savethe park, her health has been in huge decline.I worry about her every single day. "Peopleseem to think mum is leading this life of luxury here at the park. But she'sgone from having a lovely farmhouse in the country to living in a portacom next to the cats' cages a crampedone-bedroom box with her office,bedroom and kitchen all in one. "Every day, seven days a week, she'slocked up in there on the computer, trying to keep Zion going.Her eyesighthas declined and she's got all these heart problems.The pressures on her are enormous." Frail Patriciadeclined our request for an interview. And Megan saysCraig'sbrother Stephen,a 43-year-oldpersonal trainer, doesn't talk about the situation either. But Megan,36, felt it was time to tell the story behind Craig'sspectacularfall from grace,and the devastating impact his actions have had

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on his once tight-knit family. Megan now lives at the park, just a few metres away from Patricia,in the aouse Craig once shared u'ith his then partner Karen Greybrook. It's a virtual palace compared to Patricia's quarters, but she won't set foot in the house. Too many bad memories, says Megan - not least memories of the night that Craig attacked Karen in the upstairs bedroom in January 2005, gashing her head open, breaking a rib and fracturing one of her vertebra. He was convicted of two counts of assault, and ordered to pay Karen $8000 in reparation. Craig was also convicted of assaulting another girlfriend l n 1vvt. Megan, an avid horsewoman with two national titles in dressage, says, "Mum was so concerned about Craig and Karen, she packed one bag and went straight to the park, She thought she was only going to be here for a few weeks, in a supporting role. Instead she's never left. "Mum quickly discovered that Craig was on the brink of financial ruin. Unbeknown to everyone, he d borrowed all this money to keep the park going. Mum didn't even hesitate to help him out. "The park was Craig's dream and ali she's ever wanted in life is for her three children to be happy." Since Patricia bailed Craig out flnanciallv and took over as

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managing director of.Zion - in sole chargeof running the ailingbusiness - she and Megan and a former park operator have received frightening written and verbal death threats from Craig'sfanatical fans. An official Facebook page was createdin Craig's honour after he was fired from Zion.lt now has 44,000 members and is full of hateful messagesfor the two women and others at Zion. Megan saysthat Craig, furious he was no longer the public face of Zion and unable to make any executive decisions at the park, was so out of control towards the end that Patricia had to hire a security guard to protect her around the clock from him. "He was becoming violent. He'd burst through the front door of her place and just flip out," saysMegan."It was seriously frightening. "Mum's a very private person,but it's time to set the record straight. Craig is a very very bitter man. We believe he's on a mission to destroy Zion. His attitude is, if he can't have it, no-one can." When Patricia,a skilled businesswoman,took over the job of managing director, she poured her life savings into savingZion- and her son. Her farm is now on the market, and she'sbeen forced to sell her retirement nest egg - two Auckland houses. "When the Lion Man TV seriesended, the number of people coming to the Park plummeted and the donations stopped coming in," says Megan."Mum had to rebuild this place from the bottom. Zion wouldn't be here today without her. But nobody acknowledgesthat - least of all my brother. "She never even let on to anybody that she was now in chargebecauseshe knew how important it was for Craig,her precious first born, to keep face.But she didn't get any thanks," says Megan. "But after Mum took over, the park gradually started humming again.Visitor numbers were up.Things were looking good.But instead of being grateful, Craigwas becoming more and more angry.He couldn't stand the

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fact that Mum was doing such a goodjob. "There's Mum living in her little.box, working so hard to save'hisdream, and he's here in the big house,well paid as the park's operator.With Mum handling the business,all he had to do was play with his cats.Mum thought that would make him happy, but his behaviour got more and more out of control. He's always had a temper, and with age it's got worse and worse." Megan says she watched, the big brother with sadness, she once adoredbecome increasingly verbally aggressiveand physically threatening towards Patricia and the park staff. Even Craig's friend, senior cat handler Dalu Mncube,had been singled out for abuse. "In the end, it was Dalu who ' looked after the cats.Craig lost interest," saysMegan."What the public don't know is that he wasn't even here half the time. He spent a lot of time partying, gallivanting off to Auckland with various women, and jet skiing than he did looking after the animals. "Craig has a real gift with

big cats,but Dalu was better, and Craig knew it. "The limelight from being on television really got to Craig.He loved the attention, and he loved being the'Lion Man',"saysMegan."Can I ever forgive him for the way he's behaved?Probably not - becauseof what he's done to Mum. "My dad left when I was 19 months old, so it was just Mum, me, Craig and Stephen at home. Mum

worked full-time and raised us on her own to be the best that we could be.That's why this is all so devastating. "l used to absolutely idolise Craig.l was his biggestfan. But this is not the life our mum chosefor herself. Do you think, at her age,she imagined her life to be like this - struggling day in and day out, seven daYs a week in a lion park? "Everyday's a battle, and every day I watch her decline. my I