DUNLAP, Calif. (AP) — Authorities are trying to determine what provoked a lion at an exotic animal park in Central California to attack and maul to death a 24-year-old woman, who had been on the job as an intern there for just a few weeks.
The woman was attacked and killed Wednesday when she entered the male African lion’s enclosure at Cat Haven about 45 miles east of Fresno, authorities said.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to an emergency call from Cat Haven found the woman severely injured and still lying inside the enclosure with the lion nearby, Fresno County sheriff’s Lt. Bob Miller said.
Another park worker couldn’t lure the lion into another pen, so deputies shot and killed it to safely reach the wounded woman. But she died at the scene, Miller said.
Paul Hanson, a Seattle-area attorney, identified the victim as his daughter Dianna Hanson of Brier, Wash. He said he drove his daughter from her home on New Year’s Day, arriving at Cat Haven Jan. 2.
“She was very excited,” Hanson told The Associated Press late Wednesday. “It was just a dream job for her.”
Hanson said she had been fascinated by big cats from an earlier age.
“She was absolutely fearless,” he said.
Cat Haven founder and executive director Dale Anderson was crying as he read a one-sentence statement about the fatal mauling at the private zoo he has operated since 1993.
Investigators were trying to determine why the intern 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.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Janice Mackey said she was unaware if any state regulations would prohibit an employee from entering an exotic animal’s enclosure.
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.
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.