DUNLAP -- A 24-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 woman, who was described as an intern, was badly mauled and died at the scene.
Her name and hometown were not released. But the victim's father, Paul Hanson, identified her as Dianna Hanson and gave her age as 24. (Cat Haven had given her age as 26.)
Paul Hanson released a message on Facebook about the death:
"Dianna really loved her six-month internship at Cat Haven. She and I drove down there from Seattle on Jan 1 & 2. She was so excited at working in Cat Haven and living in California. Once there, she gave me the tour and showed me all the big cats there with which she would be working. Of course, Dianna being Dianna, her favorites were the tiger and the lion, Cous Cous, who killed her today. You can see on her Facebook page all the big cats she loved so much down there."
Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Cat Haven, said the lion 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 woman was in the enclosure but added that an investigation will look into whether the haven's safety protocols were followed.
Wednesday night, Cat Haven posted on its Facebook page that it is closed until further notice.
There were no visitors at the sanctuary when the attack happened about 12:30 p.m. Cat Haven, just off Highway 180 and just east of the community of Dunlap, is closed to the public 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.
The wildlife center has had no violations during any of its inspections, said Janice Mackey, a state Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Sacramento.
Staff writers Kurtis Alexander, Eddie Jimenez and Marc Benjamin contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @tsheehan on Twitter.