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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Video of Sierra Cat Haven on a Happier Day

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There's crime.  Which is entirely preventable because a human being can choose not to commit one. 
And there's the brutality of nature. Which at once can be both more simple and more complex. 

A lion, as one grieving big cat sanctuary in California is painfully aware of today, is born to kill. While the Sierra Cat Haven is dedicated to providing comfortable homes for the gorgeous beasts and planning for their long term salvation as a species, the cats themselves are not making such grand plans. We don't know yet exactly what occurred between volunteer Dianna Hanson and big male lion Cous Cous, but by the end of it, they were both dead. 

By a quirk of fate, I happened to be at the Sierra Cat Haven sanctuary about 3 weeks ago. I saw Cous Cous. He was perfectly calm. His enclosure is one of the largest there. He shared it with a female lion who was much closer to the fence when our tour group stopped by. Cous Cous himself hung far back at the interior of his fenced habitat.  My wild guess is that he had roughly a 1/4 acre in which to roam. 

Cous Cous sat and watched us with his head erect, his full mane giving him the majesty for which his kind is so famous. He did not come near nor attempt to engage with us in anyway. He did not seem nervous or unhappy but he was not playful, either. 

On our tour we were told that all the cats there had lived their entire lives in domestic situations. Several of them had been acquired or "rescued" from trainers or zoos who found them unusable for profit-oriented entertainment purposes. Many of the leopards, lynxes, jaguars and tigers seemed very comfortable with human handling.

I shot this video on Feb 10, 2013 at Sierra Cat Haven. The fellow in the cage is a leopard who has been playing with a watermelon, the smashed remains of which can be seen at the bottom of the cement cavity inside his enclosure. 

Sierra Cat Haven seemed like a well run facility on the day I was there. The enclosures were large. Many of them had Christmas trees in them, the mega-cat version of a scratching post and crinkle toy. All of the cats had places to be private, ways to exercise, and entertainment designed for them. The tiger even had a place to swim. Each personality behind the barriers seemed well known to our tour guide. The animals were bright-eyed and alert but calm. The interaction between the tour guide and the cats was certainly unforgettable. With their plush fur, they would lean in to her caresses with the same exhibition of decadent luxuriating that we expect from house kitties. But with their size, their periodic screams, their dagger like claws and teeth, it was impossible to forget these were not pets but killing machines. 

And now a cat-crazy young woman, whose passion for the animals led her to travel far and plot out a life course she will never get to pursue, has lost her life in what must have been a terror we do not want to imagine. And Cous Cous, a playful cub on Ellen Degeneris's lap a few years ago and a haughty Master of All He Surveyed just 3 weeks ago, has fallen far afoul of his caretakers' altruistic vision, played out the brutality of the jungle for which he was born, and paid for it with an officer's bullet. 

A necropsy will be performed on Cous Cous. Will there be any answers there? Are there any videos of exactly what took place between Dianna and the big cat? Were there reliable witnesses? We may never have any satisfaction.

It may be no more that a passionate and cheerful woman took one wrong step, just one, in her young life and died for it. Whether it was trying to get a closer look at an animal that may have been showing signs of distress, distress which she thought she could  relieve, or that she tried to retrieve something dropped inside the double barrier, unaware that the lion's side had broken in some way or any of a number of other scenarios, the lesson might end being nothing more that one wrong step is all it takes. 

That is, after all, the law of the jungle.



  1. Sad to hear about this. My friend Jennifer volunteers up their.

  2. Indeed, having just been there, my sense of shock was also rather raw. I admire your friend's dedication. The cause is very worthy. This fatality will affect so many people in so many ways.