Dianna Hanson, 24, was just two months into her six-month internship at Cat Haven, located 40 miles east of Fresno, when she was attacked and killed by a lion after entering its cage on Wednesday.
The Fresno County Coroner's Office said Hanson died instantly when her neck was broken. The lion then caused additional wounds after her death.
The coroner's office said investigators found the lion had escaped his cage to attack the intern in the outer cleaning enclosure.
The sanctuary was closed to the public when the 4-year-old male lion named Couscous attacked Hanson. Another worker who was outside of the cage tried to lure the lion away from Hanson, but wasn't able to. Sheriff's deputies shot and killed the lion so they could get to the victim, but the intern was already dead.
The coroner's office said the dead lion weighs 500 pounds. The lion's body was awaiting a necropsy at a veterinarian facility in Tulare County.
Couscous was an unusual species of lion with distinctive spots on his head. He had been raised at the park since he was an 8-week-old cub.
Since it opened in 1993, Cat Haven has housed many exotic animals. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cat Haven had a good safety record prior to this incident. Local, state and federal investigators on Thursday will return to the facility to determine if it followed all safety precautions.
Paul Hanson, Dianna's father, said working at the facility was his daughter's dream job.
Dianna Hanson had posted pictures on her Facebook page posing with large cats from the sanctuary and also talked about working with Project Survival's Cat Haven.
Paul Hanson said his daughter had been fascinated by big cats from an early age, but he doesn't know why she would enter the lion's cage.
"Apparently the other intern was outside of the cage, was not in the cage. She was in the cage. I don't know why in the world she would ever be inside the lion's cage," said Paul Hanson. "She told me only the owner was allowed to be in the cage, only the lions and tigers cages. She said the workers were forbidden from ever going into it."
Cat Haven is closed to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the winter. The facility's Facebook page posted that Cat Haven will remain closed to the public until further notice.