A woman killed by a 550-pound male lion at a conservancy near Fresno, Calif., earlier this week may have been caught by surprise after the animal escaped its cage, investigators say.
According to a preliminary autopsy, Dianna Hanson, a 24-year-old intern for Cat Haven, was killed Wednesday when the lion snapped her neck.
Hanson, whose father has described her as a "fearless" lover of big cats, died quickly from a fractured neck and "some suffocation," said Fresno County Coroner David Hadden. The body had "numerous claw marks and bite damage" elsewhere, probably inflicted after the initial swipe, he said.
The 5-year-old lion, named Cous Cous, apparently escaped from a feeding cage while Hanson was cleaning its main enclosure. Hanson was talking with a co-worker on her cellphone moments before she was killed, the coroner said. The co-worker called authorities when the conversation ended abruptly and Hanson failed to call back, he 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, according to the AP. "He ran at the young lady."
Sheriff's deputies shot Cous Cous after he couldn't be coaxed away from Hanson's body.
According to the AP, Hanson had worked for two months at the 100-acre private zoo east of Fresno. Her Facebook page contains several photos of her posing with big cats.
"She was disappointed because she said they wouldn't let her into the cages with the lion and tiger there," her brother, Paul Hanson, said.
The AP quotes the owner of the zoo, Dale Anderson, as saying that safety protocols were in place but he would not discuss them because they are a part of the law enforcement investigation.
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."
The Los Angeles Times says Cous Cous had been raised at the park since the age of 8 weeks and "was one of Hanson's favorite animals."