Keeping Visitors, Employees and Animals Safe at Sanctuaries

Mar 7, 2013 7:59 PM

While investigators are still working to determine exactly what happened leading up to a deadly lion attack at a Central Valley cat haven, some are wondering about the safety procedures at local wildlife sanctuaries.

"It was a tragedy for both human and animal. I feel for the parents," Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation Director Roberta Kirshner said.

Kirshner has been working with wild animals since she was a child, and one thing she has learned is that no matter how well you train an animal, they can still be unpredictable.

“Things can happen in an instant, so you have to be prepared for that, so you don't take any chances," Kirshner said.

While the Kirshner Wildlife Foundation is set up differently than the Cat Haven in Dunlap where intern Dianna Hanson was killed by a four year-old lion, the organization still has strict rules in place to prevent similar accidents at the sanctuary east of Butte College.

When it comes to the 19 big cats and other animals, there are several safeguards.
Visitors are separated from the animal enclosures by perimeter fences that are at least four feet away and each big cat enclosure has a secondary cage attached to make feeding and cleaning safer.

“Everything goes into a lockout and then we do whatever we need to do in their cages," Kirshner said.

While there are about 46 interns that work at the sanctuary, Kirshner says they are not allowed into the big cat enclosures.
That job is left up to the nine experienced trainers on staff.

“No trainer does anything alone. And the trainers handle it with back up," Kirshner said.

After 20 years of operation, Kirshner says she is proud of the fact the sanctuary has been without any attacks or escapes, but she isn’t resting on her safety record.

"It can happen. You just do everything you can to prevent it," Kirshner said.


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