Founder of local sanctuary reacts to fatal lion attack in Fresno

Owner: People should stay out of lion enclosures

ALPINE, Calif. - The founder of a San Diego County wild animal sanctuary told 10News human error may be the reason why an intern was attacked by a lion in Fresno County Wednesday.

A lion mauled to death 24-year old Dianna Hanson, an intern at an exotic animal park in the Sierra Nevada foothills of remote Central California.

“Our job is to rescue and protect animals,” said Bobbi Brink, founder of the Lions, Tigers & Bears animal sanctuary near Alpine.  “If we get hurt we’ve just lost our whole mission because 9 times out of 10, they’re gonna kill the animal.”

The animal in the Fresno County case was Cous-Cous, a 4-year old male African lion.  Published reports indicate Hanson and another worker at the sanctuary were both inside his enclosure when the attack happened.  The other worker tried to distract the lion, but it was too late.

Brink told 10News you can never be too safe around lions. 

“Safety is number one," she said. "We never go in the enclosures with the animals."

Brink explained that Lions, Tigers & Bears uses a system called “shifting," where big cats are moved to an empty enclosure before humans can go inside where they were and vice-versa.  They also do what’s called “protective contact," so there’s always a piece of chain link between the animals and the people who are trying to care for them.

“This is a job where you’ve gotta pay attention,” Brink said.  “You’ve got to be on top of it."

Authorities said Hanson was attacked and killed when she entered the male African lion's enclosure at Cat Haven about 45 miles east of Fresno.

Fresno County sheriff's Lt. Bob Miller said sheriff's deputies responding to an emergency call from Cat Haven found the woman severely injured and had to shoot the animal to reach the woman. But she died at the scene.

Hanson's father, Seattle-area attorney Paul Hanson, identified the victim  and said he drove his daughter from her home on New Year's Day, arriving at Cat Haven Jan. 2.

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