The lion that killed a 24-year-old intern at a
Fresno County wild cat park probably killed the woman by accident, her family said.
Diana Hanson's family said that to their knowledge all safety rules were followed.
"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
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 lifted 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
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.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into whether there
might have been any violations of the
federal Animal Welfare Act, although a spokesman said the last 10
federal inspections of the park found no violations and no penalties or
enforcement actions issued.
Cal/OSHA investigators were at the park
Wednesday and requested more information about employee procedures and
training, said Peter Melton, an agency spokesman.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to examine
samples taken from the lion, looking for any underlying conditions or
health issues that might have contributed to the attack, said Janice
Mackey, a department spokeswoman. Results were expected in the coming
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
"She was living her dream," said her older brother, Paul Hanson. "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 for the length of the investigation, 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."
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-- Kate Mather in Los Angeles and Diana Marcum in Dunlap