Managerial negligence may have allowed an African lion to escape from its cage and kill a volunteer intern in California yesterday, according to a coroner's inquiry.

Dianna Hanson, who was working at the Cat Haven sanctuary in Fresno, was mauled by a four-year-old male African lion called Cous Cous. The young woman died of the injuries suffered in the attack.

The coroner's report now states the lion managed to escape from a smaller but only partially locked enclosure to confront Hanson while she was cleaning the larger cage.

Cous Cous the Lion
Cat Haven

"The lion had been fed, the young woman was cleaning the large enclosure, and the lion was in the small cage," the BBC quotes Fresno County coroner David Hadden, who explained the lion used its paws to push its cage door open and "ran at the young lady."

Hanson's body was identified by her father, Paul Hanson, who said his daughter told him working at Cat Haven was her "dream job". She had been employed at the sanctuary for two months before the attack.

Earlier theories about the attack suggested Hanson had entered Cous Cous' cage, thereby provoking the attack. That led to criticism from Nicole Paquette, the vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, who said the intern "should never have been in the enclosure with him... big cats are extremely dangerous... they placed the volunteer in the... cage."

Dianna Hanson's Father Had Premonitions

However, comments by the father now suggest Hanson told him that, although she was comfortable working with the big cats, as an intern she would not be allowed inside the lion's cage.

"How she ever got inside the cage and why she would be inside the cage because I thought-- she made it real clear that they don't let anybody in the cage except the owner," he told the Mail.

The father also revealed he had premonitions of this disastrous event.

Cous Cous the Lion
Cat Haven

"Anybody who works with cats knows that they are wild animals and they can turn even on people closest to them. So I always had this horrible, nagging premonition that I would get a call like this," he told ABC News, when he learnt of the death.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that an unnamed Italian was outside the gates, thought to have been Hanson's boyfriend. Speculation suggests she may have been showing off for his sake.

"I always worried about her working with lions and jaguars and bobcats," he said. "But they were always very careful. She must be in shock. I just want to go to her," the LA Times quoted him as saying.

Safety Issues

Meanwhile, Peter Melton, a spokesperson for the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said the agency had sent two inspectors to investigate whether the sanctuary permitted the victim to enter enclosures housing dangerous animals.

"We'll find out exactly what she was doing and what her job duties were and whether she was following the procedures as they were supposed to be done," Melton said.