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Intern killed in Fresno County lion attack, park founder says

March 6, 2013 |  4:22 pm

he scene at Cat Haven, a Fresno County wild animal park, after a fatal lion attack Wednesday. Credit: Diana Marcum / Los Angeles Times

The person fatally attacked by a lion at a wild cat park in Fresno County was a woman intern in her early 20s, the park's founder said Wednesday.

A visibly shaken Dale Anderson addressed more than a dozen reporters who gathered outside Project Survival's Cat Haven after the attack. The woman, whose name has not been released, entered the lion enclosure about 12:30 p.m. and was attacked, Anderson said.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family at this time," Anderson said, choking up. "We'll keep you posted as things progress around here."

The 4-year-old lion, a male named Cous Cous, was shot and killed after the attack, said Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Project Survival. Cous Cous had been hand-raised at the park since he was 8 weeks old, Osegueda said.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Ryan Michaels told The Times that emergency crews were called to the scene after a reported animal bite, but the victim was declared dead by the time they arrived. Michaels said the person was inside the cage when the attack occurred.

According to Cat Haven’s answering machine, the park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays for its “winter hours.”

"Project Survival's Cat Haven promotes the conservation and preservation of wild cats in their native habitat by educating visitors and publicizing the work done by Project Survival Cat Conservation Group," its website states.

The website shows photos of numerous wild cats, including bobcats, cheetahs, leopards and lions.

Lt. Tony Spada of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Fresno Bee that the animal park is licensed by the agency for exotic animals.

He called the incident "very rare," noting that regulations and safety measures required by the state call for minimal human-animal interaction.

"This facility has a very good history," Spada told the newspaper. "In this case, someone just got too close."


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Photo: The scene at Cat Haven, a Fresno County wild animal park, after a fatal lion attack Wednesday. Credit: Diana Marcum / Los Angeles Times