Friday, March 8, 2013

Woman Mauled, Lion Shot, Communications Stifled

I'm not sure what to think of the crisis communications preparedness of Project Survival Cat Haven near Fresno.

A 350-pound African lion opened the gate of a pen at this big-cat sanctuary, then moved into a larger enclosure where it killed an intern. Dianna Hanson, 24, was cleaning a main enclosure, thinking she was safe from two lions that had been inside before. But somehow, one of them, a 5-year-old lion named Cous Cous, escaped and attacked her. She died of a broken neck. (

"Earlier Thursday, the Dunlap, California, sanctuary's founder (Dale Anderson) insisted that safety protocols were followed at the Northern California facility before Hanson's death. 'We have been incident-free for 16 years since we opened in 1998,' he said. (Do the math.) 'We are cooperating fully with the sheriff's department investigation and hope we can determine exactly what happened.'
"He teared up and couldn't finish his statement when he began to talk about Hanson. 'Our whole staff is ... it's just, it's devastating,' he said. The sanctuary has not explained why Hanson was in the lion's cage but had said it would investigate the incident. Anderson declined Thursday to offer more details, citing the investigation being conducted by authorities."  (
All right. That's the good. Here comes the bad and the ugly.
A CNN report showed Anderson gating a road. The reporter said, "How are you doing?" Stupid thing to say, granted. But Anderson's answer didn't help him or his organization. "How do you think we're doing? Awful." He turned and walked away. (
Worse is Project Survival Cat Haven's website, which doesn't even acknowledge the crisis. Two days after the attack, something should be posted expressing regrets, condolences to the family, a promise to prevent future tragedies, and a commitment to work with authorities in the investigation.
Not only is there no acknowledgement of the crisis on the website, but the home page links to photos of the now-deceased killer lion. (
When in a crisis, don't forget to communicate through social media as well as "traditional" channels. And certainly don't ignore your website and let it remind readers of your problems without acknowledging those problems.