Authorities want to know what provoked a lion at an exotic animal park in California to maul to death a 24-year-old woman who had been working as an intern for just a few weeks.
The woman was killed Wednesday when she entered the male African lion's enclosure at Cat Haven, authorities said.
Sheriff's deputies found her severely injured and still lying inside the enclosure with the lion nearby, Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Bob Miller said. Another park worker couldn't lure the lion into another pen, so deputies shot and killed it. But the woman died at the scene, Miller said.
Paul Hanson, a Seattle-area attorney, identified the victim as his daughter Dianna Hanson.
"She was very excited," Hanson told The Associated Press late Wednesday. "It was just a dream job for her."
He said his daughter had been fascinated by big cats from an earlier age.
"She was absolutely fearless," he said.
Cat Haven founder and executive director Dale Anderson was crying as he read a one-sentence statement about the fatal mauling at the private zoo he has operated since 1993.
"We take every precaution to ensure the safety of our staff, animals and guests," he said.
The lion, a 4-year-old male named Cous Cous, had been raised at Cat Haven since it was a cub, said Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Project Survival, the nonprofit that operates the animal park.
The facility is normally closed on Wednesdays, and only one other worker was there, sheriff's Sgt. Greg Collins said.
Cat Haven has housed numerous big cats, including tigers, leopards and other exotic species. It is regulated as a zoo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Results of the last 13 USDA inspections show no violations dating back to March 2010. The most recent inspection was Feb. 4.
Officials at another big cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue in Florida, told The Associated Press last year that at least 21 people, including five children, have been killed and 246 mauled by exotic cats in the United States since 1990. Over that period, 254 cats escaped and 143 were killed.
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," Hedren said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.