California big-cat park agrees to tougher safety measures following intern lion mauling death

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DUNLAP, California — The operator of an exotic animal park in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Central California agreed to implement tougher safety protocols almost two years after a volunteer was killed there by a lion.

In a settlement reached January, Cat Haven in Dunlap, about 45 miles east of Fresno, agreed to install physical barriers with locks on every cage door and to keep one person on standby whenever an animal handler enters a large cat enclosure. The animal sanctuary also agreed to provide safety training for workers and keep fire extinguishers near doors to use as a distraction during emergencies, the Fresno Bee reported Tuesday.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health first ordered tougher security measures after March 6, 2013, when 24-year-old intern Dianna Hanson of Seattle died after a 550-pound lion named Cous Cous escaped from a partially closed feeding cage, breaking her neck. Officials shot and killed the lion when it couldn't be coaxed away from the body.

But the sanctuary's founder Dale Anderson appealed, saying it's safer for one person to handle the animals. He also said having locks on every cage would be an inconvenience for workers to get around and that locks aren't needed on every door.

Anderson said he agreed with the settlement because a majority of the key safety protocols came from him and his staff.

He also said Cal OSHA, the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, and other government agencies investigated Hanson's death and concluded that Cat Haven officials did nothing wrong and that her death was an accident. "Safety has always been our top priority," Anderson said.

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