Lion attack: Intern likely died from paw swipe to neck


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An autopsy indicated the 24-year-old woman killed by a lion at a Fresno County wild cat park died from a fractured neck and ‘some suffocation,’ probably because of a swipe from the lion’s paw, coroner’s officials said.

Dianna Hanson probably died quickly during the Wednesday attack at Project Survival’s Cat Haven, Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said. The body had “numerous claw marks and bite damage” elsewhere, believed to be inflicted after the initial swipe, he said.


Hanson was killed at the Dunlap park Wednesday, when a 4-year-old male lion named Cous Cous attacked her. Another volunteer tried to lure the lion away from Hanson, but by the time authorities reached her, it was too late. Hanson died at the park. The cat was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.

Friends of the workers said the routine was to feed the cats about noon, typically by putting food in a small enclosure, getting out and then letting the animals inside from a larger enclosure.

Authorities on Thursday continued investigating the circumstances of the attack, and have not specified the details of the incident, including whether the lion was in the larger enclosure or the feeding area.

But Hadden said Hanson’s body was found in the larger enclosure and it was his understanding that the lion had just been fed in the smaller enclosure when it “escaped.”

A necropsy on the lion was scheduled to be performed Thursday, said Janice Mackey, a spokeswoman for California Fish and Wildlife. Officials will collect samples from the lion, looking for any underlying conditions or health issues that might have contributed to the attack. Results are expected in a couple of weeks.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into whether there might have been any violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act that might have contributed to the attack, a spokesman said. Cal-OSHA investigators were at the park Wednesday and requested more information about employee procedures and training, said Peter Melton, an agency spokesman.


The last 10 federal inspections of the park found no violations, and the spokesman for Department of Agriculture said no penalties or enforcement actions had ever been issued.

At a brief news conference Thursday outside the park’s gates, sanctuary founder Dale Anderson said Cat Haven had been “incident free” since 1998.

“Our whole staff...,” he said, fighting back tears. “It’s devastating.”

Paul Hanson, 29, said his younger sister had always been interested in animals, particularly big cats. After graduating from Western Washington University with a degree in biology in 2011, the Seattle-area native began working toward a certification that would have allowed her to work at a zoo.

That goal took her to the Soysambu Conservancy in Kenya after graduation and then, in January, to Project Survival’s Cat Haven in Dunlap for a six-month internship.

‘She was living her dream,’ Paul Hanson said. ‘She was living her destiny as far as being able to work with those animals. That was what she wanted in life.’


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— Kate Mather in Los Angeles and Diana Marcum in Dunlap