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HARDIN COUNTY - Authorities believe a 52-year-old man bled to death Thursday after an attack by a lion at his rural Hardin County residence.

Coroner Roger Little said an autopsy was performed on the body of Allison Brent Abell Friday afternoon in Carmi. Preliminary reports indicate Abell died from a massive hemorrhage. "The pathologist is relatively certain Mr. Abell bled to death from the animal bites," Little said. "We believe he went pretty quickly."

Abell and his wife, Kathie, ran Cougar Bluff Enterprise - an exotic wildlife preserve near the Hardin-Gallatin county line. The preserve provided shelter for the African Barbary lion, eight cougars, one bobcat and eight wolves, according to Jim Rogers, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The exhibit license was issued in Kathie Abell's name.

Abell's body was discovered by Hardin County deputies, assisted by a Cave-In-Rock police officer, after his wife called 911 at 5:51 p.m. Thursday.

Chief Deputy Bill Stark of the Hardin County Sheriff's Department said Kathie Abell told officers that when she arrived home Thursday evening, she saw the lion loose on the property - about 50 yards behind the house. She told officers she didn't know where her husband was. Abell also told officers that she had a tranquilizer gun but did not know how to operate it properly. She gave permission to have responding officers "do what they had to do" to get the 1,000-pound animal under control.

The lion was declawed, but "he still had teeth," Stark said. "We couldn't let that loose on the public. I told the officers if they had a direct shot, put him down. They did."

Officers found Abell's body two to three feet from the lion's cage. The door to the cage was open and Abell was lying on his back with visible wounds - a laceration on his head and a puncture wound on his left thigh.

Abell was transported to Hardin County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 8:37 p.m.

Little said several more puncture wounds were discovered during the autopsy Friday. Abell also suffered a broken neck, caused, Little said, by the animal holding Abell's legs in its mouth and "slinging his body around." Final autopsy results should be released in three to four weeks, the coroner said.

The coroner said the lion, named Simba, apparently also killed a large dog - the family's pet. Blood and tissue samples were taken from the lion, which was 8 feet long from nose to tail and had a shoulder height of 4 feet, Little said.

Authorities have speculated that Abell was attacked as he entered the lion's cage to change the animal's bedding. Chief Deputy Stark said the sheriff's department has never had any problems before at the 6-acre preserve located in the rural and remote area across from Camp Cadiz.

The preserve has been inspected by USDA officials several times since its license was granted in 2000 and was found compliant in all areas. Rogers said Cougar Bluff had to meet the strict guidelines set by the federal Animal Welfare Act before a license was even granted.

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The fate of the preserve will depend on the outcome of an investigation by USDA officials. Rogers said investigators will try to determine whether there was a possible violation of the Animal Welfare Act. If violations are found, the maximum penalties allowed are $2,750 per count per animal per day, Rogers said. Licensing action could also be taken.

A family spokeswoman said Friday the preserve was open to the public. Donations were accepted to help maintain the facility. She said the lion was "not a family pet" and the family understood the dangers of dealing with them.

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