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Fatal lion mauling stirs animal safety protocol debate

March 7, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The fatal lion mauling in Dunlap is stirring up debate over safety protocols wherever wild animals are in captivity.

"It's a tragedy," said Nancy Lang, Ph.D, with Safari West, a wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa.

Lang is talking about the death of Dianne Hanson, the 24-year-old intern-volunteer killed Wednesday by a lion at "Cat Haven," a private animal park east of Fresno.

"It's a tragic incident and very little, if nothing, is known at this time," Dr. Lang said.

Though she has never been to Cat Haven and has no firsthand knowledge of the protocols they have in place, Dr. Lang says that at Safari West, the rules are clear.

When asked if anyone would ever enter the facility alone, she adamantly replied, "No, never, that's not an option."

Safari West is home to over 500 animals. The mammal species housed here are native to Africa and represent the big cats, like these cheetahs.

The interns working the property have limited interaction with the mammals, primarily "observational." When there is a need to handle a cheetah, it takes a team of five, including two handlers with two separate leashes and three spotters.

"They will spend a year or more observing the handlers and the people who are the spotters, they then become the spotters," Dr. Lang said.

Hanson's Facebook page is filled with all the big cats she loved. Experts say the animals can be unpredictable, suggesting that investigators may never know why the animal chose to attack.


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