National Geographic News
A sheriff's deputy guards the entrance of a cat sanctuary.

A male lion killed a volunteer worker at Project Survival Cat Haven in California.

Photograph by Mark Crosse, McClatchy Tribune/Zuma Press

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published March 8, 2013

An African lion killed a worker Wednesday at a wildlife sanctuary called Cat Haven in Dunlap, California.

Twenty-four-year-old Dianna Hanson of Seattle died after a 350-pound (160-kilogram) lion named Cous Cous escaped a smaller pen and attacked Hanson as she was cleaning its main enclosure, according to CNN. Hanson reportedly died quickly of a broken neck, and the lion inflicted other injuries after death. The Fresno County sheriff deputy shot and killed the lion in an effort to stop the attack, but it was too late, according to news reports. (Also see "Pittsburgh Zoo Tragedy: Why Did African Wild Dogs Attack Boy?")

We asked two leading big cat experts to weigh in on the tragedy: Craig Packer, a 2012 National Geographic Waitt grantee and ecologist at the University of Minnesota; and conservation scientist Luke Dollar, grant-program director of the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative.

What was your reaction to the news?

Craig Packer: The young woman was apparently attacked when the lion broke out of its holding cage and caught her while she was cleaning out its enclosure. Fully-fledged zoos are always extremely careful to keep their staff out of harm's way with heavy duty holding facilities.

Luke Dollar: I hope we don't try to vilify a law-enforcement officer who was acting on short notice in an attempt to get medical attention to the victim as quickly as possible. The danger has to be removed.

The lion is a predator and its a big, powerful animal. Whether it intended to "attack and devour" the keeper or simply "played too rough" is not clear at present. What's certain is that these animals demand a great deal of respect and constant vigilance.

Is there any bigger takeaway from this incident?

CP: Lions attract a lot of attention: Lion Country Safari, the Lion King, Born Free, Chronicles of Narnia, the Cowardly Lion, etc. They are big fluffy mammals with cute cubs and affectionate family relationships.

Most of the time they seem relaxed and cuddly—so it's easy to forget that they react to meat with the reflexive instincts of a shark. Ten years ago Roy Horne (of Siegfried  and Roy) was attacked by a tiger that they had handled for years—these attacks happen when people forget about the shark inside.

Can wild animals like lions be domesticated?

LD: To take a big cat and treat it as a pet is ill advised. It really is wonderful to love and respect these creatures, but it is truly folly [to think] that one can commune and be friends with them. We have learned that lesson over and over, whether it's with bears or big cats or venomous snakes.

We have this fascination [with dangerous animals such as lions] because of their potential lethality, but for some reason we still cross the line that should never be crossed.  ... Anthropomorphization is a dangerous thing. These are wild animals—this is not Simba from the Lion King.

robert webster
robert webster

the same holds true for our domesticated carnivores. We all love our dogs and cats and seem to quickly justify pet attacks. I own and will always have a dog but we have to respect them and treat them as potential dangers. The only animal induced scars I have are as a result of two attacks.  A Jack Russell and a Dachshund. "But poor little poopsy is so cute." says the SPCA.  Ignorance and complacency will almost always result in injury or death.  

Anthony Miller
Anthony Miller

Another example that extreme caution should be exercised when around wild animals of any species.  It is very unfortunate and sad that wild animals have to die due to human ignorance.

Katherine Larsen
Katherine Larsen

Roy was not "attacked" he had fallen down onstage due to a small stroke and the tiger tried to pick him up(like a kitten) and carry him to a safe place . Since Roy is not a tiger cub with lots of loose skin at the back of his neck  the tiger inadvertantly punctured his jugular vein.

Alexandre Silva
Alexandre Silva

What about that man in South Africa who hand raised lions and other  wild animals. Kevin Richardson is his name, he appears to have a good relation with the animals. I wouldn't dare, even loving these beasts. Is he playing with extreme danger?

Samantha Masters
Samantha Masters

This was well said, i don't think this be put across any better. These animals are termed wild for a reason and is exactly where they belong. In their sight we are nothing but mere ostrich or gazelles 

Jolie Adams
Jolie Adams

Learn the truth about the fatal liger attack that killed Safari's Sanctuary intern Peter Getz in October 2008, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  The sanctuary's owner did not tell the truth to the public, to the media, or to the USDA.  Both before the attack and after the death, the park staff continued to feed many of the large felines by entering their cages while the animals were inside nearby and not separated from the staff.  Read a former staff's affidavit to the USDA from March 2011 and her observations from that day and what happened afterward, and view photos taken at the park that prove owner Lori Ensign-Scroggins and her staff did not learn the right lessons from the tragedy of Peter Getz's death--see link below.

Safari's Truth Destination on Facebook


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