USDA: Lion cage where intern died worked properly

SACRAMENTO, Calif. The enclosures at a Central California wild animal park where a lion killed an intern were working properly at the time of her death, federal officials said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that the agency's investigation on the day after the mauling in March found no violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act at Project Survival's Cat Haven.

USDA investigators looked at whether proper enclosures were in place, and whether they were in good working order, among other things.

"We looked at anything and everything that could have contributed to that incident, including enclosures, the employee training program, procedures for cleaning enclosures and feeding the animals, and we did not find any violations," said USDA spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole.

The federal agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service sent two people — an inspector and a big cat specialist — from its office in Fort Collins, Colo., after the attack that killed Dianna Hanson, 24, of Seattle. Hanson, a big cat lover, was working a six-month internship at the private zoo in the Sierra Foothills near Fresno just west of Kings Canyon National Park.

The inspection into Hanson's death included the safety clasps on enclosure doors. Hanson was cleaning the cage of a 4-year-old male lion named Couscous when he somehow escaped from a smaller enclosure and attacked her. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mimms has said the gate was not completely closed.

Sheriff's deputies killed the animal when they could not lure him away from Hanson's body.

Cat Haven officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Since the property opened in 1993, it has housed numerous big cats, including tigers, leopards and other exotic species. It is permitted to house exotic animals by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and is regulated as a zoo by USDA. The USDA's last 13 inspections of the facility showed no violations.

Officials at another big cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, told The Associated Press last year that at least 21 people, including five children, have been killed and 246 mauled by exotic cats in the U.S. since 1990. Over that period, 254 cats escaped and 143 were killed.