Lion didn't intend to kill young woman, her family believes
The family of a 24-year-old woman killed in an attack by a lion said they believe her death was an accident and that the big cat didn't intend to harm her.
Intern Diana Hanson was killed Wednesday afternoon at a big cat sanctuary in Fresno County.
Authorities say she died quickly after the lion clawed her. Her family says they don't think the lion meant to kill her.
"It sounds like it was an accident, maybe the latch had not been completely closed .... You know, house cats are smart, they can open doors," her brother Paul Hanson told the Associated Press. "It wasn't a vicious attack ... because you would expect severe lacerations and biting on the neck and that was not the case."Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said Hanson's body was found in a larger enclosure that the intern had been cleaning. The lion -- a 4-year-old male named Cous Cous -- had just been fed in a smaller enclosure and somehow "escaped," Hadden said.
Dale Anderson, the founder of Project Survival's Cat Haven, declined to answer questions about how the attack happened when he toured the Dunlap facility with reporters Thursday. But a close look at the enclosure showed that the den where the lion was being fed was separated from the larger enclosure by a heavy gate that could only be opened by lifting it up.During the attack, officials said, another volunteer tried to lure the lion away from Hanson, to no avail. Sheriff's deputies arrived and fatally shot the animal. By the time rescuers reached Hanson, she was mortally wounded.
A preliminary autopsy suggested that Hanson died quickly from a fractured neck and "some suffocation," Hadden said. The neck injury appeared to come from a swipe from the lion's paw. The body had "numerous claw marks and bite damage" elsewhere, probably inflicted after the initial swipe, Hadden said.
An investigation into the incident by the Fresno County Sheriff's Department and other agencies is ongoing.
Cal/OSHA investigators were at the park Wednesday and requested more information about employee procedures and training, said Peter Melton, an agency spokesman.
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 raises big cats and "promotes the conservation and preservation of wild cats in their native habitat by educating visitors."For Hanson, getting an internship at the 100-acre park was the culmination of a lifelong love of big cats, friends and family members said.
As a young girl, she drew pictures of tigers and told people she wanted to be a "pet store lady" or zookeeper. After graduating from college, she moved to Kenya to work at a wildlife conservancy. Then on Jan. 1, the 24-year-old and her father drove from Washington to Dunlap, where Hanson began a six-month internship at Cat Haven.
"She was living her dream," her brother Paul said. "She was living her destiny as far as being able to work with those animals. That was what she wanted in life."
The park will be closed until the investigation is complete, authorities said. Officials there were shaken by the events.
"She was doing what she loved, and she did it with joy every day that she worked here," park President Wendy Dabbas said Thursday night, breaking into sobs. "I'm so sorry that this happened."
-- Kate Mather in Los Angeles and Diana Marcum in Dunlap