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California wild cat park reopens to public after lion attack

March 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The Cat Haven sanctuary near Fresno, where a lion killed a 24-year-old intern last week, reopened to the public Sunday with the support of the victim's family.

The sanctuary held a moment of silence to honor Dianna Hanson. A letter from Hanson's grieving mother was read aloud by Project Survival's president, Wendy Debbas.

"I am living every mother's worst nightmare in losing a cherished child. I'm pleased that Cat Haven is reopening today. It is my desire that they continue their mission in support of saving my daughter's beloved creatures," the letter said.

Hanson's family is urging people to donate to a wildlife organization fund set up in her memory.

Hanson had been cleaning an empty enclosure last Wednesday when the 550-pound lion escaped from his feeding pen and pounced on the intern, breaking her neck, killing her instantly.

The sanctuary was closed to the public when the 4-year-old male lion named Couscous attacked Hanson. Sheriff's deputies shot and killed the lion so they could get to Hanson, but the victim was already dead.

"It just used to scare her mother and me to death to think of her in that cage. I never got used to that," Paul Hanson, the victim's father, told ABC News.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States said there's a "long and growing casualty list of people who have been injured or killed by dangerous wild animals kept as pets."

More tigers are kept in captivity in the U.S. than are left in the wild. According to World Wildlife Fund, there are 5,000 tigers living in private captivity in the U.S. and 3,200 living in the wild in Asia. In Ohio, more than 50 exotic animals let loose by their owner, terrorized a community.

Mitchell Kalmanson has a booming business insuring exotic animal owners, inspecting their properties and making sure their cages are secure.

"You think they're nice and cute and cuddly, all of a sudden they're grown, and they can turn within seconds," said Kalmanson.

Experts say even in captivity, these animals never lose their wild instincts.

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