Via NBC Newsreports:
A young woman who was working her dream internship at a California private zoo for exotic animals was mauled to death by an African lion.
The woman, Dianna Hanson, 24, was in the lion’s enclosure at Project Survival’s Cat Haven in Dunlap, Calif., Wednesday when the animal attacked her. A worker tried unsuccessfully to lure the lion into another pen before sheriff’s deputies shot and killed it. Hanson died at the scene.
The woman’s father, Paul Hanson, told The Associated Press that she was “absolutely fearless” and fascinated by big cats.
“She was very excited,” he said. “It was just a dream job for her.”
The lion was a 4-year-old male named Couscous that was featured on the daytime talk show “Ellen” as a nursing cub. It had been raised at Cat Haven since it was 8 weeks old, The Fresno Bee reported.
On Thursday, the zoo’s Facebook page prominently featured a tribute to the big cat, with the inscription “You’ll live on in our hearts.” The page was flooded with expressions of mourning for both the young woman and the lion, with some commenters wondering why the zoo didn’t also feature a photo of the woman.
The executive director of the zoo, Dale Anderson, was crying Wednesday as he read a short statement of condolence.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friend and to her family,” he said.
It was not clear why Hanson was in the lion’s enclosure.
“They’re lions. That’s all I can say,” Lt. Tony Spada of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told reporters. “Animals. They’re wild animals.”
The AP said at least 21 people have been killed and 246 injured by exotic cats in the United States since 1990. It was the first attack in California since 2007, when a Siberian tiger leapt out of its pen at the San Francisco Zoo and killed a 17-year-old boy.
Federal inspections going back three years show no violations at Cat Haven. The zoo will be closed until further notice.
Nicole Paquette, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the young woman should not have been in the enclosure with the animal.
“These are big cats that are extremely dangerous, and they placed a volunteer in the actual cage with a wild animal,” she told the AP. “That should have never happened.”
So sad… But at least her family seems to be taking solace in the fact that she died doing something she loved.