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Lion Experts Weigh in on Deadly Mauling

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EAGLE POINT, Ore. – Police are investigating a deadly lion attack in Fresno County, California. Dianna Hanson, a 24-year old intern at animal park Cat Haven, was fatally mauled earlier this week. Evidence shows the park was following all safety protocols.

Here in the Rogue Valley, the Oregon Tiger Sanctuary raises exotic cats that have been abused, neglected or illegally owned. Having operated since 1991 without incident, they say that these kinds of attacks can be avoided.

Many of the cats at the sanctuary have been raised by their handlers since they were cubs. But even then, they never cross into the cats’ side of the fence.

“I don’t care if the person raised the lion from a cub. If they turn their back on it the lion’s gonna jump them and kill them,” said Robert Nagato-Needleman, the sanctuary’s Director of Veterinary Services. “That’s the law of nature, they’re a predator.”

The cages have to be locked down like a prison. Animals are separated by two layers of chain-link fence. There are canisters that spray bursts of carbon dioxide to startle an animal if it becomes violent, and canes for emergency self-defense. Neither the canisters nor the canes would likely stop an angry cat.

“We have to have a system in place that overrides the possibility of a mistake,” said Nagato-Needleman.

Many of the housing and safety features are regulated by the USDA. But the sanctuary says that just following regulations isn’t enough to ensure safety.

“There are no regulations that say ‘you can’t go in with a lion to clean its cage.’ That is [currently] being allowed by law,” said Nagato-Needleman.

The sanctuary says that no amount of love can tame a wild cat, and that the only answer is to stop an attack before it begins.

“The truly best way to prevent a death… is to prevent it before it’s even a possibility,” said Nagato-Needleman. “The cat and the person should never be in the same place at the same time.”

The Oregon Tiger Sanctuary says that the USDA needs more power to create safety regulations around how exotic animals are kept in captivity if further attacks are to be prevented.