DUNLAP – A 26-year-old woman who volunteered at Project Survival's Cat Haven in the foothills east of Fresno was killed Wednesday when she was attacked by a 4-year-old male African lion in its enclosure.
A co-worker tried in vain to draw the lion away from the woman and into another enclosure. An arriving Fresno County sheriff's deputy, seeing the lion would not let anyone provide medical aid to the woman, shot and killed the animal.
The Associated Press reported that her father identified the victim as Dianna Hanson of Brier, Wash. Paul Hanson, a Seattle-area attorney, said he drove his daughter from her home on New Year's Day, arriving at Cat Haven Jan. 2.
Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Cat Haven, said the lion that was killed Wednesday was named Cous Cous. She said he was hand-raised at the Dunlap haven since he was an 8-week-old cub.
The man who opened Cat Haven in 1998 and has kept it going on a shoestring budget was visibly shaken as he talked about the attack Wednesday afternoon.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family at this critical time," Dale Anderson said.
He did not say why the worker was in the enclosure but added that there will be an investigation.
There were no visitors at the sanctuary when the attack happened about 12:30 p.m. Cat Haven, just east of Dunlap, is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the winter.
The sanctuary, like every other zoo in the state, is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Local warden Lt. Tony Spada said attacks like Wednesday's are very rare because of the safety measures required by the state and because regulations require minimal human-animal interaction.
The last attack by a big cat in California happened in 2007, when a Siberian tiger leaped and clawed out of its San Francisco Zoo enclosure, killing a 17-year-old boy and injuring two friends.
Organizations with exotic-animal permits from Fish and Wildlife "range from circuses to zoos to places like this, and they are all over California," Spada said.
"This place has a good history – up to this point," Spada added. "This is a situation where somebody was too close to a lion."
Spada said his agency will investigate along with the Fresno County Sheriff's Office to pin down what happened, including an autopsy of the lion. An autopsy on the worker will be conducted today, Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said.
Cat Haven is home to between 40 and 50 rare felines, according to its March 12, 2012, state permit – its most recent. Among the species are tigers, leopards, lions, jaguars and cheetahs. The permit allows the animals to be used for exhibiting and breeding.
Cat Haven has had no violations during any of its inspections, said Janice Mackey, a state Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Sacramento.