DUNLAP, Calif. — A young woman from Snohomish County was killed by a lion Wednesday at an exotic animal park in California where she was a volunteer intern.
The woman, who was identified by KING 5 as Dianna Hanson, 24, was attacked and killed when she entered the male African lion’s enclosure, according to Dale Anderson, director of Cat Haven in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Authorities were trying to determine what might have provoked the animal to maul Hanson.
Anderson was crying as he read a one-sentence statement about the fatal mauling at the private zoo he has run since 1993.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to an emergency call from the park, which is about 45 miles east of Fresno, found Hanson severely injured and still lying inside the enclosure with the lion nearby, Fresno County sheriff’s Lt. Bob Miller said.
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Another park worker had been unsuccessful trying to lure the lion into a separate pen, so deputies shot and killed it to reach the wounded woman, who died at the scene, Miller said.
Investigators were trying to determine why Hanson was inside the enclosure and what might have provoked the attack, sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Collins said. The facility is normally closed on Wednesdays, and only one other worker was there when the mauling happened, he said.
The lion, a 4-year-old male named Cous Cous, had been raised at Cat Haven since it was a cub, said Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Project Survival, the nonprofit that operates the animal park.
Hanson, of Brier, was a graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School and Western Washington University. She had spent years working at animal shelters before she started working as a volunteer keeper at Cat Haven in January. She previously volunteered at the Snow Leopard Trust, PAWS, Akre Tiger Sanctuary in Bellingham and Soysambu Conservancy in Kenya, according to her LinkedIn account.
“Dianna really loved her six-month internship at Cat Haven,” her father, Paul Hanson, posted on Facebook, according to a CNN report. “She and I drove down there from Seattle on January 1 & 2. She was so excited at working in Cat Haven and living in California. Once there, she gave me the tour and showed me all the big cats there with which she would be working.”
Since the 100-acre facility just west of Kings Canyon National Park opened two decades ago, it has housed numerous big cats, including tigers, leopards and other exotic species. It is permitted to house exotic animals by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and is regulated as a zoo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Results of the last 13 USDA inspections show no violations dating back to March 2010. The most recent inspection was Feb. 4.
Nicole Paquette, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the victim of the attack should never have been in the enclosure with the animal.
“These are big cats that are extremely dangerous, and they placed a volunteer in the actual cage with a wild animal,” she said. “That should have never happened.”
Cat Haven has housed Bengal tigers, jaguars and leopards, as well as bobcats native to the area. The facility’s website says it promotes conservation and preservation of wildcats in their native habitats and offers visitors tours and educational outreach.
Anderson said Project Survival would investigate to see if the intern and the other worker on-site followed the group’s protocols.
“We take every precaution to ensure the safety of our staff, animals and guests,” he said in a statement.
Seattle Times reporter Alexa Vaughn contributed to this report as did Associated Press writers Garance Burke in San Francisco and Sue Manning in Los Angeles.