Lion Kills Intern at Calif. Animal Sanctuary

Father of victim said she had her "dream job" at sanctuary. Lion had been featured on "Ellen" as a cub.

By Melissa Pamer
|  Thursday, Mar 7, 2013  |  Updated 10:46 AM EDT
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Lion Featured on "Ellen" Kills Intern at Calif. Animal Sanctuary

Andrew Ranta/flickr

A big cat in a 2009 photo from Cat Haven, an animal sanctuary east of Fresno where a lion apparently killed a person on Wednesday.

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A lion mauled a 24-year-old female volunteer intern to death at a private wild animal sanctuary in California, according to authorities and the facility's owner.

The attack happened at Project Survival's Cat Haven sanctuary in Dunlap (map) on Wednesday afternoon.

The woman's father identified the victim as Dianna Hanson (pictured below), who turned 24 last month. Paul Hanson said his daughter started the six-month internship in January, calling it her dream job to work with the big cats.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Department said deputies shot the lion to death after the attack.

"Upon arrival, deputies observed the victim, who appeared to be severely injured, inside the African lion enclosure with an adult male African lion. Another employee had made several attempts to distract the lion away from the victim and into another enclosure prior to the deputy's arrival, but all attempts failed," a Sheriff's Department press release stated.

"Deputies shot and killed the lion to provide medical attention to the victim," the release continued. "The victim died at the scene."

Dale Anderson, executive director of Cat Haven, said in a statement to media gathered at the sanctuary that the employee was a female volunteer intern.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friend and her family at this trying time," Anderson said, his voice quavering.

Another spokesperson for the sanctuary said the animal that killed the intern was a male named Cous Cous.

The 4-year-old lion had once appeared as a nursing cub on the TV show "Ellen," NBC News reported.

Authorities said the circumstances of the mauling remained unclear.

Cat Haven was closed for its regular winter hours at the time of the attack, authorities said. The sanctuary remains closed, and yellow caution tape was strung across the metal gates leading to the facility, video from the scene showed.

Multiple emergency vehicles were on site, and officials on scene said the Sheriff's Department and state wildlife officials will both investigate.

Martine Colette, founder of the Wildlife Waystation in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, said she was unfamiliar with Cat Haven and could not comment on this situation specifically. But she said she could not imagine why an animal keeper needed to be inside an adult lion enclosure.

"Never, never would I allow any one of my keepers to enter into an enclosure with a full-grown animal for any reason whatsoever," said Colette, whose facility holds more than 60 lions.

"These are animals that bring down a wildebeest, a zebra," Colette said. "They really, really, really are powerful."

The Cat Haven sanctuary is about 45 miles east of Fresno in the Sierra Nevada foothills, just west of Kings Canyon National Park.

The facility is licensed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to have non-native exotic animals, according the department's Lt. Tony Spada, who spoke to reporters at the scene. Spada said Cat Haven had "passed their inspections."

The sanctuary's website states that the facility was founded in 1993 on 100 acres and offers "guided tours of some of the rarest cats in the world."

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