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Lion 'Escaped Cage' Before Killing Woman
A volunteer worker was mauled to death by a lion after it apparently managed to open a cage door with its paw and entered an area she was cleaning, a coroner has said.
Dianna Hanson's neck was broken almost instantly when the 550lb (250kg) lion swiped her with his paw at a big cat sanctuary in California, said Fresno County Coroner David Hadden.
"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 to lift it up with his paw," Mr Hadden said.
"He ran at the young lady."
She had been talking to a colleague on the phone just before she was killed.
The co-worker became concerned when the conversation ended abruptly.
Mr Hadden said bite and claw marks found on the 26-year-old's body were inflicted by the four-year-old male named Cous Cous after she was already dead.
She was attacked inside an enclosure at Cat Haven in Dunlap by an African lion which had been raised at the park since it was a cub.
Another park worker tried unsuccessfully to lure the lion into a separate pen. The animal was later shot dead.
Ms Hanson's father Paul, a Seattle-area lawyer, said his daughter was "very excited" to be working there.
"It was just a dream job for her. She was absolutely fearless," he said.
He added that his daughter had been fascinated by big cats from a young age.
"She was disappointed because she said they wouldn't let her into the cages with the lion and tiger there."
Dale Anderson, who has run the sanctuary since 1993, cried as he read a short statement about the intern's death, extending his thoughts and prayers to the victim's family and friends.
Actress Tippi Hedren, who founded the Shambala Preserve in California for seized or abandoned exotic pets, expressed dismay over the killing of the lion.
"It wasn't the lion's fault. It's the human's fault always," she said.
Cat Haven, about 45 miles east of Fresno in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is a private sanctuary with two lions.
The park - which is home to about two dozen animals and has previously housed tigers, leopards and jaguars - has a good safety record.
An inspection by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in January 2011 found the sanctuary was in "good condition".
The owner of the zoo said safety protocols were in place but he would not discuss them because they are a part of the law enforcement investigation.
Mr Anderson said that he is the only person allowed in the enclosure when lions are present.
"We want to assure the community that we have followed all safety protocols," he said.
"We have been incident-free since 1998 when we opened."
Last year, another sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, said that at least 21 people, including five children, have been killed and 246 mauled by exotic cats in the US since 1990.
Over that period, 254 cats escaped and 143 were killed.