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24-Year-Old Intern Fatally Mauled By Lion Knew She Shouldn't Go Inside His Cage

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The biggest question after an African lion fatally attacked a 24-year-old intern at a cat sanctuary in Fresno is why she was inside the lion's cage in the first place.Dianna Hanson had only been with Project Survival's Cat Haven for two months of what was supposed to be a six month internship, but her father Paul Hanson said that she understood that humans had to be careful around these powerful creatures. Hanson told ABC that he had gone to visit his daughter, who took him on a tour and explained the policies that were supposed to keep volunteers like her safe:

"When she took me down there and showed me the place, she said, 'You know we're not allowed to go into the cage with the lions and tiger here. Only the owner Dale Anderson could do that. We're not allowed to do that. We can go in the other cages -- they're perfectly safe.' They feed them from the outside, there's no way you can be harmed from the outside, but apparently she went inside the lion's cage and I don't know how or why she would've done that."

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife for the Humane Society, told the Los Angeles Times that there shouldn't have been any reason for Hanson to go inside: "These animals are ticking time bombs waiting to explode. It's completely irresponsible to allow someone to go into the enclosure with a dangerous wild animal."It's not clear exactly what happened, but the Times found out more details about how feeding worked at the sanctuary. The routine was to feed cats around noon (and the call first reporting the attack came in just before 12:30 pm). There is a small enclosure that caregivers go inside to place the food while the cats are in a separate, larger enclosure. They leave the smaller enclosure, and then open it up for the animal to go inside and eat. Caregivers and lions are not supposed to be in the same enclosure at the same time for any reason.

It appears that Hanson and another more experienced volunteer were feeding the 4-year-old male African lion named Couscous. Authorities wouldn't say which enclosure Hanson and the lion were in. And they wouldn't offer any details about why two volunteers would be unsupervised.

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After the attack was reported, the call was canceled 20 minutes later, because it was clear before authorities arrived that Hanson wouldn't survive. Fresno County Sheriff's Deputies said the more experienced volunteer tried to coax the lion into another enclosure away from the victim's body, but that didn't work. Police responded by shooting and killing the animal.

The Times says there was a third person at the scene of the mauling: the boyfriend of the volunteer who found Hanson's body. The boyfriend was visiting from Italy, and he was kept outside the gates. He told the Times, "I always worried about her working with lions and jaguars and bobcats. But they were always very careful. She must be in shock. I just want to go to her."

Cat Haven was regularly inspected by federal authorities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it was found in compliance. There had been at least five routine inspections since October 2011. Until now, there hadn't been any problems.

Couscous the lion in the attack weighed about 350 pounds, and he had been raised at the sanctuary from the time he was 8 weeks old. When he was a young cub, he even appeared on Ellen, and his trainer remarked: "You can imagine what this guy is going to be like when he gets to be 500 or 600 pounds."

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Dale Anderson, a former commercial pilot who founded the sanctuary in the 1990's, read a statement to reporters while choking back tears: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to her friends and family at this time. We'll keep you posted as things progress around here."

Paul Hanson said he always feared he'd get a call from his daughter like this, and he told ABC:

"You just can't tell them no, you can't do it, you shouldn't do it. They know the risks, but they love it so much, it's their dream. You want them to live their dream, you want them to be happy. So I've always encouraged her, never tried to discourage her. But I always had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that someday I'd get a call like this -- someday this would happen."

Here's a picture of Hanson with one of the cats she loved (you can find more pictures at The Daily Mail):

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Related:
Lion Mauls Volunteer At Exotic Cat Haven: 'Someone Just Got Too Close'