Father of intern killed by lion had 'premonition' of attack

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by ABC News

WHAS11.com

Posted on March 7, 2013 at 5:25 PM

(ABC News) -- The father of the intern, who was killed by a lion at a big cat sanctuary in Dunlap, Calif., Wednesday, said his daughter never feared working with big cats, but he always feared something might happen to her.

The victim was identified as 24-year-old Dianna Hanson, who was two months into her internship program at the Cat Haven in Dunlap, a small town in Fresno County near King's Canyon National Park.

"Anybody who works with cats knows that they are wild animals and they can turn even on people closest to them. So I always had this horrible, nagging premonition that I would get a call like this," Hanson's father, Paul, told ABC News overnight by phone from his home in Washington state.

Hanson said his daughter loved to be around big cats and working with them was her true passion in life.

Dianna Hanson was inside the cat enclosure when a 4-year-old male African lion named Cous Cous attacked her around 12:30 p.m., officials said. It was not immediately clear what Hanson was doing inside the closure, or what prompted the attack.

Another employee had tried unsuccessfully to lure Cous Cous away from Hanson and into another enclosure. Less than 30 minutes after Hanson entered the cage, Cous Cous was shot by a Fresno County sheriff's deputy who responded to a call, authorities said.

"The lion was shot and killed per our safety protocols," Dale Anderson, founder and executive director of Project Survival Cat Haven, which manages Cat Haven, said Wednesday.

The park was closed at the time of the attack.

Hanson's grief-stricken father is now left with the question of why his daughter was in the enclosure with the lion. "How she ever got inside the cage and why she would be inside the cage, because I thought she made it real clear that they don't let anybody in the cage except the owner," Paul Hanson said.

In a statement on Facebook, Hanson reflected on his daughter's time working at the sanctuary.

"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 ... who killed her today," he said.

Dianna Hanson trained with three tigers and a lion while in college at Western Washington State University. She also traveled to Africa to work with large cats, Paul Hanson said.

"Di, we will always love you. And we will miss you so much. But I know that you will be happy. For now, you truly are in the eternal 'Cat Haven,'" Paul Hanson said in the statement.

The sanctuary will remain closed to the public today, and state wildlife officials will perform a necropsy on Cous Cous, trying to determine what may have caused the fatal attack.

Cous Cous had been raised at the preserve since he was 8 weeks old, and even made an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" when he was a cub.

Cat Haven was founded in 1993 and is run by Project Survival, a privately funded education and conservation organization.

The 100-acre facility is home to a variety of wild cats -- including tigers, leopards and other threatened and endangered species that are kept for limited breeding and use in educational programs, according to Cat Haven's website.

Officials said the park has had a good history, and had an active permit to operate.

Cat Haven also runs an outreach program, and its "cat ambassadors" may sometimes be taken off-site to make appearances as part of that program, according to the website.

The preserve is run by a core staff supported by volunteers.

ABC News' Larry Dechant and Suzan Clarke contributed to this report.

 

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