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Lion attack: 'I'm sorry this happened,' says president of cat haven

Standing in front of the gates of Project Survival's Cat Haven, the organization's  president on Thursday spoke about Dianna Hanson, the intern killed by a lion at the Fresno County sanctuary on Wednesday.

"She was doing what she loved and she did it with joy every day that she worked here," said Wendy Dabbas on Thursday night, breaking into sobs. "I'm so sorry that this happened."

Dabbas described Hanson, 26, as a vivacious young woman who made up songs for the jaguars, lions and cheetahs that live at the haven.

An investigation continues into how the 4-year-old African male lion named Cous Cous got out of the den where he was feeding and into the larger enclosure where Hanson was cleaning and chatting on the phone.

The heavy gate between the two areas can only be lifted.

Hanson was killed when the lion attacked her about 12:30 Wednesday. Another volunteer tried to lure the lion away from Hanson, but by the time authorities reached her, she was dead. The cat was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.

A preliminary autopsy suggested that Hanson died quickly from a fractured neck and “some suffocation,” said Fresno County Coroner David Hadden. The neck injury appeared to come from a swipe from the lion’s paw. The body had “numerous claw marks and bite damage” elsewhere, likely inflicted after the initial swipe, Hadden said.

Before Dabbas spoke Thursday, Dale Anderson, the haven's founder, confirmed Hansen died of a broken neck.

"She died instantly, he said.

The park is closed for the length of the investigation.

"We don't know when, but the park will reopen," said Sonia Sanchez, a park spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, authorities on Thursday continued investigating the circumstances of the attack. Hanson and the other volunteers were alone on the roughly 100-acre park when the attack occurred, officials said. Friends of the workers said the routine was to feed the cats about noon, typically by putting food in a small enclosure, getting out and then letting the animals inside from a larger enclosure.

Officials have not specified the details of the incident, including whether the lion was in the larger enclosure or the feeding area.

But Hadden said Hanson’s body was found in the larger enclosure and it was his understanding that the lion had just been fed in the smaller enclosure when it “escaped.”

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--Diana Marcum in Dunlap

 
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