SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A 24-year-old intern who was killed by a lion at a California wildlife sanctuary apparently liked to get close to big cats, and state officials on Thursday said they are investigating why she was inside an enclosure with the predator and what caused the attack.
The Cat Haven sanctuary east of Fresno remained closed the day after Dianna Hanson was killed. Authorities said a 350-pound male Barbary lion named Cous Cous attacked her inside a pen.
Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed the lion so they could tend to Hanson, who died at the scene, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department said.
Dianna Hanson’s Facebook page showed pictures of her standing or sitting next to big cats, apparently in enclosures, and she had worked on a wild feline reserve in Africa.
Her father, an attorney in Washington state, told Seattle television station KING 5 that his daughter, originally from the Seattle area, had given him a tour of Cat Haven, the sanctuary, about 40 miles east of Fresno.
“I’ve always had a premonition this would happen,” Paul Hanson told the station. “She really loved getting up close and personal with the animals.”
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health sent two inspectors with questions such as whether the sanctuary allowed the woman to enter the enclosure, said agency spokesman Peter Melton.
“We’ll find out exactly what she was doing and what her job duties we’re and whether she was following the procedures as they were supposed to be done,” Melton said.
Authorities said Cat Haven, a 100-acre (16-hectare) sanctuary in Dunlap run by the group Project Survival, would remain closed until further notice.
Hanson, who graduated in 2011 from Western Washington University with a degree in biology, had previously worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at a pool in the city of Shoreline, in the Seattle area.
She spent six months in Kenya last year working on a wild feline reserve and “her passion for big cats was evident,” a statement from the city of Shoreline said.
In 2011 and 2012, Hanson also volunteered in Seattle for the Snow Leopard Trust, which seeks ways to protect the endangered species, the organization said.
The 4-year-old Barbary lion that killed Hanson was of a species that is extinct in the wild, said Janice Mackey, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which oversaw the permit that allows the sanctuary to operate.
The lion had been handled by humans since it was weeks old, and was one of two Barbary lions at the facility, Mackey said.
Several years ago, when it was a cub, “Cous Cous” also made an appearance on the talk show “Ellen,” Mackey said.
On Thursday, a necropsy was performed on the lion to determine if it suffered from any health problems that could have led to the attack, Mackey said.
Cat Haven was founded in 1993 “to exhibit a variety of wild cats and engage public support for their conservation in the wild via specific projects,” according to the park’s website.
A representative for Cat Haven could not be reached for comment.
Aimee Zundell of Las Vegas visited Cat Haven last summer with her husband and their two young daughters, and she saw “Cous Cous.”
“I never forgot him. He was just so ... gorgeous,” she said. “He was sitting by this big bathtub, and his chin was on the bathtub. He was absolutely stunning.”
“My impression was that nobody goes into the enclosure by themselves,” she said. “I was told they always worked in teams, especially if the cat needed medical attention.”
Additional reporting by Laura L. Myers in Seattle, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio