March 8, 2013

Coroner: Killer lion had escaped from cage

The coroner says a gate was partially open and the lion lifted it with his paw to get out.

The Associated Press

DUNLAP, Calif. — The investigation into a lion attack that killed a 24-year-old woman who loved big cats is focusing on a cage door that the 550-pound animal managed to escape through to reach the volunteer intern, officials say.

click image to enlarge

Dianna Hanson

click image to enlarge

This 2012 photo provided by KFSN-TV shows a male African lion named Cous Cous at Cat Haven, a private wild animal park in Dunlap, Calif.

The Associated Press

Additional Photos Below

Authorities said Thursday they believe the 5-year-old male lion broke the neck of the woman at a Central California animal park after it got out of its feeding cage and attacked as she cleaned its bigger area.

The investigation is continuing into how the powerful beast and Dianna Hanson came tragically to be in the same place at the same time, Fresno County coroner David Hadden said.

"The lion had been fed, the young woman was cleaning the large enclosure, and the lion was in the small cage. The gate of the cage was partially open, which allowed the lion called Cous Cous to lift it up with his paw," Hadden said, based on a briefing from investigators. "He ran at the young lady."

Hanson was talking with a co-worker on a cellphone in the moments before she was killed, the coroner said. The co-worker became concerned when the conversation ended abruptly and Hanson failed to call back. The co-worker then called authorities when she went to check on Hanson.

Hadden said the lion broke Hanson's neck, probably with a swipe of a paw, killing her instantly.

Sheriff's deputies shot Cous Cous after he couldn't be coaxed away from Hanson's body.

Hanson had been working for two months as an intern at Cat Haven, a 100-acre private zoo east of Fresno. Her father, Paul Hanson, described his daughter as a "fearless" lover of big cats and said her goal was to work with the animals at an accredited zoo. She died doing what she loves, he said.

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," said Paul Hanson, a Seattle-area attorney.

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 he's the only person allowed in the enclosure when lions are present.

"We want to assure the community that we have followed all safety protocols," Anderson said. "We have been incident-free since 1998 when we opened."

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 reddish-haired young woman sustained numerous bites and scratches in Wednesday's attack, and the autopsy revealed they were inflicted after she died.

"Which means the young lady ... wasn't alive when the lion was tossing the body about," said Hadden, the coroner. "We think the lion hit her with his paw and that's what fractured her neck."

When the attack occurred, Anderson said he and two other Cat Haven workers had left to take a cheetah to exhibit at a school. Hanson and another worker were left behind.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Dale Anderson, founder of Project Survival Cat Haven near Dunlap, Calif, walks Thursday with Pele, a female lion, at the same fenced habitat area where a day earlier Cat Haven sanctuary worker Dianna Hanson, 24, died from an attack by Cous Cous, a male lion twice the size of Pele, according to Anderson.

AP / Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee

  


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)