Feline Conservation Federation

Intern Killed in Lion Attack at Cat Haven

All those who work at conservation centers and facilities understand the hazards associated with exotic cats. Any animal, whether domestic or wild, can be stimulated to bite or scratch. However, this incident serves as a reminder to us all just how vitally important it is to remain vigilant, and to closely follow proper safety protocols.

March 9, 2013    Dianna Hanson was, by all accounts, a vivacious girl who loved life and adored wild cats. When she was offered an internship position at Project Survival's Cat Haven Sanctuary in Dunlap, California it was, according to her father, a dream come true. Hanson's father said Thursday that she never feared working with big cats, but he always feared something might happen to her. And on Wednesday his fears were realized when Dianna was killed by Cous Cous, a 4-year-old male lion at the sanctuary.

Dianna's body was found in the large habitat enclosure and staff tried to lure Cous Cous into a holding area so that she could be extricated, but were ultimately unable to do so. In order to get her out, Cous Cous was shot and killed by police on the scene. "We think the lion hit her with his paw and that's what fractured her neck," said Fresno County Coroner David Hadden. It appears that Dianna died instantly from this injury, and that scratches and bites inflicted occurred after she had already died.

Dianna was cleaning the lion's enclosure while he was in a smaller side cage, but the gate to the enclosure was not properly secured and he was able to enter the exercise area and attack her. It appears that human error has led to a terrible tragedy. Dale Anderson, owner of Cat Haven said, "We have been incident-free since 1998 when we opened." noting that the conservation facility has developed safety protocols that do not allow direct contact with the adult big cats.

FCF wishes to extend its deepest sorrow and condolences to both Ms. Hanson's family and to the Cat Haven family over the loss of Cous Cous. Executive Director Lynn Culver says, "We especially wish to thank Dianne's father, Paul Hansen, who has made public statements reflecting tremendous love, understanding, and respect for his daughter's love of the endangered cats."

FCF is an internationally recognized organization devoted to responsible captive husbandry and conservation of nature's wild feline species. Members are licensed owners and professional breeders, educators and handlers who work at zoos, sanctuaries and nature centers around the country. Culver, who has raised exotic cats for over 20 years, is disappointed at the harsh and uninformed judgements voiced by some animal rights organizations even while details surrounding this tragedy are still unknown. Culver warns against legislative over-reaction, saying "Passing ban laws that remove freedoms and prohibit captive breeding programs and wildlife exhibition in response to isolated incidents such as this is not in the best interests of conservation."

Dianna loved wild cats and devoted her life to their conservation. Let's not allow her death to create an adverse effect on the very thing that she loved the most.