DUNLAP, Calif. – A lion that killed a woman at a privately owned Central California zoo escaped from a feeding cage and attacked while she was cleaning its enclosure, authorities said Thursday.
Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said Dianna Hanson, a 24-year-old intern described by her father as a “fearless” lover of big cats, died instantly when the 5-year-old lion broke her neck.
Hanson had been working for two months as an intern at Cat Haven, a 100-acre exotic zoo east of Fresno. The large enclosure where Hanson was killed includes a smaller cage where animals can be confined for feeding or when the large space is being cleaned.
The lion known as Cous Cous somehow managed to open the gate, said Hadden, who was briefed by investigators.
Hanson’s father said his daughter’s goal was to work with big cats at an accredited zoo and that she died doing what she loves. Paul Hanson, a Seattle-area attorney, described her as a “fearless” lover of big cats.
That love was apparent on her Facebook page, which is plastered with photos of her petting tigers and other big cats. She told her father she was frustrated that Cat Haven did not allow direct contact with animals.
“She was disappointed because she said they wouldn’t let her into the cages with the lion and tiger there,” Paul Hanson said.
The owner of the zoo said Thursday that safety protocols were in place but he would not discuss them because they are a part of the law enforcement investigation. Dale Anderson said that he’s the only person allowed in the enclosure when lions are present.
Friends of Dianna Hanson recalled her passion for cat conservation.
“She was lovely, energetic, athletic. She did everything she could to help our conservation efforts,” said Kat Combes of the Soysambu Conservancy in Kenya, where Hanson recently had volunteered to work in the Cheetah Research Center.
The lion, which had lived at the park since it was a cub, was later shot by Fresno County sheriff’s deputies who were trying to reach her body.