DUNLAP, Calif. – Project Survival Cat Haven in Dunlap remained closed Thursday after one of the volunteers was attacked and killed Wednesday afternoon.
Investigators said Cous Cous, the 350-pound lion, opened a gate by himself, allowing him to enter the enclosure where the 24-year-old intern Dianna Hanson was cleaning. The coroner said she died of neck injuries and suffocation.
“She just loved it. It was her dream come true working with big cats all day long, nothing but big cats,” said Paul Hanson, victim’s father.
Cous Cous was raised by humans and appeared on TV shows. Still, wildlife experts warn it’s impossible to predict how an animal will react.
“We can’t forget how powerful these animals are,” said Jeff Corwin. “It does strike me as potentially dangerous for someone to be alone with a cat like this. You can see a tragic outcome when one potentially loses sight on the absolute predatory ability of these incredible cats.”
Investigators said Hanson was working with another intern, but was alone in the cage when he attacked.
“Apparently, the other intern was outside the cage,” said Hanson. “She was in the cage, and I don’t know why in the world she’d ever be inside the lion’s cage. I can’t think of any reason she’d ever do that.”
Her father said he always worried something like this would happen.
“I’ve always had a premonition that I would get a call like this someday,” said Hanson. “But she was so happy. It was her dream. So, I’ve always encouraged her, never discouraged her but I’ve always had this nagging feeling back in my mind that someday I’d get a call like this.”
The founder of the Cat Haven, Dale Anderson said it had been incident free since it opened in 1998. The last 10 federal inspections of the facility found no violations.