Handout photo of Cous Cous the lion at the Cat Haven Sanctuary in Dunlop
Handout photo of Cous Cous the lion at the Cat Haven Sanctuary in DunlopReuters

A 24-year-old woman was mauled to death by an African lion at a California wildlife sanctuary on Wednesday.

Dianna Hanson, an intern, died almost instantly after the 350-lb male Barbary lion named Cous Cous attacked her and broke her neck, inside its enclosure at Cat Haven sanctuary. Earlier reports suggested that the animal escaped from its pen to attack her. 

"The young lady did not suffer because she died almost instantly from a fractured neck," Fresno County Coroner Dr David Hadden told Reuters.

The sanctuary is normally closed on Wednesdays and only one other worker, besides Hanson, is said to have stayed at the facility. 

On Wednesday, authorities reached the scene of the incident after receiving an emergency call from Cat Haven Sanctuary. They noticed Hanson lying severely injured with the lion nearby. An attempt by a park worker to lure the lion into another pen proved futile, forcing officials to shoot the lion to reach Hanson. But, Hanson was already found dead at the scene.

The intern's autopsy reports revealed bite and claw marks on her. Investigators are probing as to what led Hanson to enter the lion's cage and what could have triggered the male lion to attack her. "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," Peter Melton, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, told Reuters.

The four-year-old lion has been raised since it was a cub at the sanctuary, a 100-acre facility that was opened two decades ago. It was one of the two Barbary lions, a species extinct in the wild, at the facility.

Cat Haven had been incident-free since it was opened in 1998. California Department of Fish and Wildlife recently inspected the facility and found it to be in good condition, according to a report by Associated Press.

Such incidents of captive animals attacking humans have been on the rise in the United States. Last November, a young boy was killed by a pack of African painted dogs in a Pittsburgh zoo.