A lion was able to escape its holding cage while the worker cleaned it. Then the big cat killed the 24-year-old woman, investigators said Friday.
Authorities believed the lion at the Central California animal park got out of its feeding cage and charged at the woman as she cleaned, breaking the young woman's neck.
"The lion had been fed, the young woman was cleaning the large enclosure, and the lion was in the small cage. The gate of the cage was partially open, which allowed the lion called Cous Cous to lift it up with his paw … He ran at the young lady," David Hadden, Fresno County coroner, said in a statement.
The body of the 500-pound lion is now at a veterinary facility in Tulare County ahead of a necropsy to be performed in order to determine what may have caused the fatal attack.
The United States Department of Agriculture enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act and is investigating if the animal exhibited any unusual behavior previous to the attack.
Dianna Hanson's father, Paul, is still coming to terms as to how his daughter came to be in the same place as the lion.
"How she ever got inside the cage and why she would be inside the cage [is unclear], because I thought she made it real clear that they don't let anybody in the cage except the owner." Hanson told ABC. "She was at ease with those big cats. They liked her."