The Performing Animal Welfare Society says it will review its safety procedures after a woman was killed by a male lion in Fresno County, but its director says it operates differently than the Cat Haven sanctuary where Dianna Hansen was killed.
Ed Stewart says that his staff is not allowed to use cell phones, except for the head keeper who is in direct contact with him. Hansen was reportedly on her cell phone when the lion escaped from its enclosure and attacked her, breaking her neck.
“If you’re operating a bulldozer or a backhoe, you don’t want to be using a cell phone because you could get killed. It’s the same with a lion or a tiger,” said Stewart.
Stewart who helped found PAWS has been caring for lions and tigers for nearly 3 decades. Many of the big cats at PAWS were born in captivity and were pets or used in circuses. He says predators will always have the instinct to attack things no matter how long they’ve been in captivity.
Hansen worked as an intern at Cat Haven for two months. Stewart said only senior staff are allowed to work with the 30 big cats at PAWS some of the weighing close to 600 pounds.
“We don’t let… new people don’t have the run of the place,” said Stewart.
He also says his hiring policies are strict. Hansen talked about how she loved big cats and that she had her dream job.
“We don’t hire people who when the come in the first thing they say is ‘I just love big cats’…that’s not what we really care about,” said Stewart.
He says he wants people who empathize with their captivity and who want to enhance their quality of life without the emotional attachment. He also wants them to respect them as dangerous predators.
Hansen was in another enclosure when the lion apparently got to her through an unsecured gate in a different enclosure. Stewart says he trains his staff to keep an eye open no matter where they are.
“You are still paying attention to where that lion is or that tiger is and it’s not an easy thing to teach people,” said Stewart.
That lesson may have added impact after Hansen’s death. PAWS says it will review its safety procedures with its staff following the attack.
“You can never say ‘it can’t happen here’,” said Stewart.