A short time ago, the Fresno County coroner said the year-old woman died quickly after she was attacked by a pound lion and that she didn't suffer.
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She died of a broken neck and other neck injuries the preliminary autopsy shows. Hanson was an intern at the wildcat sanctuary where she died. She was working toward a certification that would have classified her for her dream job working at a zoo one day. Her family said she loved animals, especially big cats. You're going to hear from them in just a moment.
This is the animal that attacked her. It's an African male lion whose was named -- it was called Cous Cous. He was shot, killed yesterday. He lived at the sanctuary his entire life since he was a cub. When he was 3 months old, he was on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show.
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And why Dianna Hanson was inside that enclosure with the animal yesterday is the focus of an investigation now under way. Ted Rowlands joins me from outside the sanctuary. I understand you have new information about how she died, Ted? We're getting this from Dr. David Hadden, the coroner here in Fresno County. He says according to investigators, the victim here, Dianna Hanson, was in the main enclosure.
And that separated all of these lions -- enclosures are separated into large enclosures and then smaller pens. According to the coroner, he says investigators say that she was in the main enclosure cleaning, thinking that both lions were tucked away safely in their pens and that somehow, Cous Cous, the male lion, was able to apparently use his paw to open up the gates of the pen because it was either unlatched or was -- he was able to open it, and that is why he got out, and that is why she was in a position to be attacked.
So it wasn't a situation where she went into an area that was potentially dangerous. What she went into, according to the coroner, was an area that she thought was absolutely safe. She was cleaning this cage. He says, according to investigators, and this lion was able to escape somehow from his smaller enclosure. You were given access to the lion enclosure where the attack took place. What struck you about it? First of all, the property here is very expansive and the area between lions and cats here is extensive as well.
Cous Cous shared his enclosure with a female lion, a year-old, for the last three years, by the name of Pele. She was there during the attack, presumably in her den while the attack was happening, in the larger enclosure. She was there today and she was making -- like almost a barking noise and according to the handlers up here, this was a noise she does not normally make and was making it because of the stress that she felt of yesterday and not having her friend, I guess, for lack of a better term, Cous Cous no longer there. Ted, I appreciate the update. That's new information about her death.
Dianna Hanson's lifelong dream, as we said, was destroyed by the very creature she was devoted to protecting. Her family says it had been her goal since she was a child to work with big cats. Her internship at the Cat Haven Sanctuary was a -- was a step toward realizing her dream. Paul Hanson, and Paul Hanson Jr. First of all, Paul, my condolences to you and your family.
I can't imagine what the last 24 hours have been like for you. How are -- how are you holding up? But I think it's good going to the media and telling Dianna's story has really helped me.
First off, I just got a report from the coroner's office that the mauling reports in the media yesterday and earlier today were not true. There was no mauling by the lion. It was more likely a quick suffocation and neck fracture.
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There was no blood and they think it was a quick death, followed by just some injuries by the lion that was probably just playing too hard. And also, she was so happy.
Her last two months there as an internship at Cat Haven was the happiest of her life. Her mother and I agree we had never seen her happier than the two months she's been there since January 2nd when we got there. And big cats in general. She used to tell everybody she was going to grow up and study Siberian snow tigers in Siberia.
She's got some talent, but she draws the same subject over and over again, tigers. And then when she went to college, she was a ski instructor for her part-time job on the weekends up at Western Washington University in Bellingham. And one day, she had a little boy sitting next to her in his ski lift chair when the ski lift was temporarily stopped.
So she made conversation with him and asked his favorite animal, and he says, tigers, like my grandparents had. And she knew his grandparents were right there in Bellingham so she tracked them down, wanted to know how they could have tigers and it turns out they have three tigers and a lion there just outside of city limits, and she volunteered to help work and take care of them. They were so impressed with her, they trained her and they would leave her there for weeks with these animals. And she would go into the cages and take care of them and feed them and maintain them.
She would go inside the cages and she'd invite us to come up and see them. And we'd see her and then she'd go in the cages. That always got me, her in the cage. That always scared me. I always had a bad premonition that some day that -- those animals could turn on her, but she was absolutely fearless.
She was no more afraid of those lions and tigers than she was of a house cat. Just totally fearless and totally competent working with them in their cages. Paul, what do you think it was about these big cats that she loved from such a young age? And how her passion for that continued to evolve as she got older. And really dedicated herself, you know, her passion for these animals then transcending into work that could be done to save them and make sure we can still have wildlife in wild areas.
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Have you given -- been given any information as to what happened yesterday or why she was in there yesterday? I just know that she gave me a tour of the place on January 3rd when I -- after we drove down from Seattle.
She and I drove down together. That was the last time I saw her. And she gave me a tour of the place before I flew back to Seattle. And when she gave me the guided tour path that you take when you go through all the animal cages and enclosures there and when we go by the lion and tiger cage, she said these are the only cages we're not allowed to go in, the lion cage and the tiger cage. And she was a little disappointed because she had done that for so long in Bellingham.
That she was -- she said only the owner is allowed to go in these cages. So I was so shocked when I heard she was killed by the lion inside the lion cage because I couldn't figure out why she would be in there. You know, it was a lion that has been with the facility that they had had for many years. Had even taken it on TV.
So she spoke very highly of that lion.
Not at all. In fact, it makes me view them with more love and interest than ever before because I will always think of her now whenever I see a lion or a tiger or a big cat, because these were the loves of her life. And I will think of her every single time now I see one of those. And how much she would have enjoyed being there and working with them. No, it doesn't change anything. And to get to know her passions and what she loved. And died doing what she loved. Paul, thank you, and Paul Ryan, I wish you peace and strength in the days ahead.
Twenty people including five children have been killed by big cats in the United States in the past 21 years according to one group that tracks the numbers. Jack Hanna, director emeritus at the Columbia Zoo, joins me now. Jack, as we heard Ted Rowlands' report, this animal Cous Cous got into an area that was supposed to be secure.
I just want to show our viewers the large enclosure where Dianna was and the smaller one where Cous Cous was. What do you make of this? I mean, could the lion have actually opened the gate to get to her? If the lock had been left off or a chain off it, he could have pushed the latch up and got in there obviously. But having watched it, Anderson, it just brings back so many memories about -- you know, it's -- it really is hard for me to watch that because I think I have told you before that we had a little 3- year-old boy back in got -- one of my lions took his arm off, and it was beyond horrific picking it up and taking it there being put back on the boy at the shoulder.
The point is, you know, and I appreciate what the father is saying. I can't describe what I feel right now.