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Lion attack: Intern killed by cat identified, autopsy scheduled

March 7, 2013 |  9:01 am

The intern attacked and killed by an African lion at a Fresno County wild cat sanctuary was identified as Dianna Hanson on Thursday by authorities.

An autopsy was scheduled Thursday for Hanson, Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said. Coroner's officials listed Hanson's age as 24; it was previously reported as 26.

According to Hanson's Facebook page, the Washington native recently moved to California to work at Project Survival's Cat Haven in Dunlap, where she was killed Wednesday. The Western Washington University graduate previously worked at other wildlife organizations, according to the page.

The page included several pictures of Hanson with wild cats, including a Feb. 7 photo with two cheetahs. "You gotta love what you're doing!" a friend wrote. "Can't complain," she replied.

Hanson's father wrote a message on Facebook on Wednesday about his daughter, the Fresno Bee reported. He wrote that he and his daughter drove from Seattle to California in January so she could start a six-month internship at Cat Haven that she "really loved."

"Once there, she gave me the tour and showed me all the big cats there with which she would be working," Paul Hanson wrote, according to the Bee. "Of course, Dianna being Dianna, her favorites were the tiger and the lion, Cous Cous, who killed her today. You can see on her Facebook page all the big cats she loved so much down there."

Officials have released little information about the attack, but said Hanson and another volunteer were the only two at the 93-acre nonprofit sanctuary.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Department reported receiving the emergency call shortly before 12:30 p.m. Friends of the workers said the routine is to feed the cats about noon. The usual method is to go into a small enclosure, leave the food, get out, then let the animals inside from a larger enclosure. According to the sanctuary's guidelines, caregivers should never be inside with the big cats.

The more experienced volunteer repeatedly tried to coax the lion — a 4-year-old male named Cous Cous — into another enclosure, away from the victim, officials said. Police fatally shot the animal before rushing to Hanson, according to Sheriff's Department officials, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities would not say whether the lion was in the larger enclosure or the feeding area.

Cat Haven, which houses lions, tigers, cheetahs and jaguars, draws about 10,000 visitors a year. It was closed Wednesday as part of its "winter hours."

After the incident, Dale Anderson, a former commercial pilot who founded the park more than a decade ago, came outside the facility to read a statement to a group of reporters.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family at this time," he said, choking back tears. "We'll keep you posted as things progress around here."

Dozens of people have flocked to the park's Facebook page to express condolences for both Hanson and the lion. A message posted Wednesday night said the park was closed until further notice.

"We want to thank everyone for their outpouring of love and support during this very sad and difficult time," read another message posted Thursday morning.

Janice Mackey, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the agency had taken custody of the lion's body and would assist the Sheriff's Department with its investigation.

The park is licensed by the state, Mackey said, adding that the agency was unaware of any previous problems.

The facility is also regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has conducted at least five routine inspections of the site since October 2011, according to records reviewed by The Times. The inspection reports show the park was found to be in compliance with federal regulations.

Cous Cous had been at the park since he was 8 weeks old, said Project Survival spokeswoman Tanya Osegueda.

"It's so tragic all the way around," she said.

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— Kate Mather in Los Angeles and Diana Marcum in Dunlap

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