An intern-volunteer was killed on Wednesday by a lion at a private wild animal park in Central California, with state and local authorities saying they were trying to determine what might have caused the fatal attack.
Cat Haven founder and executive director Dale Anderson was crying as he read a one-sentence statement about the fatal mauling at the exotic animal zoo he has operated since 1993.
The 26-year-old intern was attacked and killed when she entered the lion’s enclosure, Anderson said, but he refused to answer questions or provide more details.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to an emergency call from Cat Haven, in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Fresno, found the woman severely injured and still inside the enclosure with the lion nearby, Fresno County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Bob Miller said.
Another park worker had unsuccessfully tried luring the lion away and into a separate pen. Deputies shot and killed the animal so they could reach the wounded woman, who died at the scene, Miller said.
Investigators were trying to determine why the intern was inside the enclosure and what might have provoked the attack, Sheriff’s Sergeant Greg Collins said.
The facility is normally closed on Wednesdays and only one other worker was there when the mauling occurred, Collins said.
The male African lion, a four-year-old named Couscous, 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.
Cat Haven is a 40 hectare facility just west of Kings Canyon National Park. Since the property opened in 1993, it has housed numerous big cats.
Despite state regulations that require annual inspections, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife most recently inspected the facility in January 2011.
The inspector’s written comments were “facility in good condition.”
Officials at another big cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, said last year 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.