Lion kills woman at private California big cat park

12 October 2012 photo released by JP Marketing shows a four-year-old male African lion named Couscous at Cat Haven Couscous was raised at the private park from the age of eight weeks old

A lion has killed a volunteer intern at a private big cat park near Fresno, California, officials say.

Dianna Hanson, 24, was attacked and killed when she entered the lion's enclosure, Project Survival founder Dale Anderson said in a statement.

Fresno County Coroner David Hadden said on Thursday she died of a broken neck at the beginning of the attack.

Police shot and killed the animal to reach her, believing Ms Hanson was severely injured, a spokesman said.

Investigators were trying to determine why the intern was inside the enclosure and what might have provoked the attack, Fresno County Sheriff's Sgt Greg Collins said.

Mr Hadden said that bite and claw marks found on her body were sustained after she died and that investigators believe the lion broke Ms Hanson's neck with a paw swipe.

The facility, known as Project Survival's Cat Haven, is normally closed on Wednesdays when the attack happened, and only one other worker was present during the mauling.

When officers arrived on scene the victim was still in the enclosure

Ms Hanson was identified by her father, who said working at the wildlife park had been her "dream job", according to the Associated Press.

Her father said his daughter had experience at wildlife parks and was "at ease" with big cats, but added that she told him she would not be allowed inside the lion's cage.

Mr Anderson was crying as he read statement to reporters on Wednesday, saying the group would investigate if their protocols were followed before the attack.

The lion was a four-year-old male named Couscous, a California Fish and Wildlife spokesman said.

Couscous had been raised at Cat Haven since he was eight weeks old, said Tanya Osegueda, a spokeswoman for Project Survival.

Lt Tony Spada of Fish and Wildlife told the Fresno Bee this type of incident was "very rare" because of the safety measures required by the state and because regulations require minimal human-animal interaction.

"This facility has a very good history," Lt Spada said. "In this case, someone just got too close."

Cat Haven is about 45 miles (75km) east of Fresno.

The project opened in 1993, and has housed numerous big cats, including Bengal tigers, Siberian lynx, jaguars and leopards.

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