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Lion broke woman's neck with paw, coroner says

The woman killed in a lion attack at a Fresno conservancy appears to have died after the big cat snapped her neck, coroner's officials said.

Dianna Hanson was killed at the park Wednesday, when a 4-year-old male lion named Cous Cous attacked her. 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 have come from a swipe of the lion’s paw. The body had “numerous claw marks and bite damage” elsewhere, probably inflicted after the initial swipe, Hadden said.

Authorities on Thursday continued investigating the circumstances of the attack. Hanson and one other volunteer were alone on the roughly 100-acre park when the attack occurred about 12:30 p.m., 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.”

A necropsy on the lion was also scheduled to be performed Thursday, said Janice Mackey, a spokeswoman for California Fish and Wildlife. Officials were to collect samples from the lion, looking for any underlying conditions or health issues that might have contributed to the attack. Results are expected in a couple of weeks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into whether there might have been any violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Cal/OSHA investigators were at the park Wednesday and requested more information about employee procedures and training, said Peter Melton, an agency spokesman.

The last 10 federal inspections of the park found no violations, and a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said no penalties or enforcement actions had ever been issued.

At a brief news conference Thursday outside the park’s gates, sanctuary founder Dale Anderson said Cat Haven had been “incident-free” since 1998.

“Our whole staff...,” he said, fighting back tears. “It’s devastating.”

Project Survival's Cat Haven houses lions, tigers, cheetahs and jaguars in enclosures on a boulder-strewn hillside about half a mile off the main road to Kings Canyon National Park. The nonprofit sanctuary, which raises money for conservation causes, gets about 10,000 visitors a year. According to the organization’s website, Cat Haven is not a rescue facility for unwanted big cats. Rather, the group raises big cats and “promotes the conservation and preservation of wild cats in their native habitat by educating visitors.”


Cous Cous, who was raised at the park since he was 8 weeks old, was one of Hanson’s favorite animals, her father reportedly wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday. Hanson had apparently shown her father the lion when he helped her move to Dunlap, Calif., in January.

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-- Kate Mather and Diana Marcum

 
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