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Just days after fatal lion attack, Calif. animal sanctuary reopens

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 5:24 p.m.

DUNLAP, Calif. — A California animal sanctuary where an African lion killed a 24-year-old intern reopened to the public on Sunday with the support of the victim's family.

Cat Haven, a private zoo run by the nonprofit Project Survival, observed a moment of silence at noon for Dianna Hanson, who was attacked by the 550-pound male lion on Wednesday.

Cat Haven founder Dale Anderson said the park was returning to normal operations so the staff could focus on taking care of its remaining 29 wild cats, but “we continue to mourn the loss of two family members.”

“Dianna would want the work that we are doing to continue, and we are reopening to the public with consent from Dianna's parents,” Anderson said at Sunday's news conference. “Her passion for working with these animals was contagious.”

Investigators believe the lion, known as Cous Cous, lifted the door of a partially closed feeding cage with its paw and attacked Hanson as she cleaned a larger enclosure area, according to Fresno County Coroner David Haden.

Hanson, who had been working as a Cat Haven volunteer for two months, died immediately from a broken neck, according to the coroner's report.

A sheriff's deputy shot and killed the 5-year-old lion because it couldn't be coaxed away from Hanson's body.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said the gate that was supposed to contain the lion was not completely closed.

“We believe this was an accident, an error,” Mims said, according to the Fresno Bee.

Hanson's relatives said they believe her death was an accident and that safety protocols were followed at Cat Haven, a 100-acre park in the Sierra foothills about 40 miles east of Fresno, where the primary industry is agriculture.

Wendy Debbas, president of Project Survival, read a letter from Donna Anderson, the victim's mother, who said she supported the reopening of Cat Haven.

“I am living every mother's worst nightmare in losing a cherished child,” Anderson said. “It is my desire that they continue their mission in support of saving my daughter's beloved creatures.”

Hanson's family has announced that a fund has been set up in her memory and urged people to donate to the wildlife organizations she loved.

“Her legacy will live on through the support of conservancies such as Project Survival's Cat Haven,” Anderson said.

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