Dianna Hanson loved big cats, but on Wednesday one of them attacked and killed her.
She was interning at Cat Haven, a facility in northern California that promotes conservation of lions and leopards. CousCous, a 350 pound African lion swiped Dianna with its paw and broke her neck, killing her instantly. The lion then continued to claw and bite her. The police later shot and killed the lion.
“I always feared it would happen,” her father told a local news reporter. “But this was her dream…she was so happy working with her big cats.”
African lion attacks in the U.S. are indeed very rare, but mountain lion attacks happen every now and then. Below are some of the most harrowing attacks from the past 110 years.
Jake Thomas Gardipee, Montana (5 years old) – Jake was killed by a group of mountain lions just behind his home in western Montana. He disappeared around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon while riding his tricycle. The mountain lions dragged his body some 30 yards away from the house, where it was found several hours later. An adult lion seen nearby was shot and killed. A local trapper and wildlife biology student found the paw prints of two mountain lion kittens and the scat of an adult lion, but it’s unknown whether Jack was killed by the two young cats or them along with their mother. It was the first known case of a deadly mountain lion attack in the state of Montana.
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Barbara Barsalou Schoener, California (40 years old) – On April 23, 1994 Barbara was running alone on an 18 mile trail in the American River Canyon, just outside Sacramento. A mountain lion attacked her from behind, dragged her down a steep overgrown slope and killed her. The cat then buried her body under some debris. Search and rescue crews looked for her that day but didn’t find her. The next morning a trio of runners noticed a rubber visor and plastic water bottle oddly positioned on a steep hill and scrambled down to investigate, they discovered Barbara’s remains.
Barbara was a mother of two children and an experienced long-distance runner. The incident was frightening for the many people who jogged in wooded California canyons, where mountain lions tend to live. “In some ways, it almost would have been better if it had been somebody who killed Barbara, a homicide,” explained a well-known running enthusiast in a 2004 Sacramento Bee article. “It was worse that it was a cougar because it changed (things for) all for us…The innocence was gone. These animals could not only hurt you, they could kill you.” In the spot on the trail where Barbara was attacked there is now a bench and a plaque. She was the first person in California to be killed by a mountain lion since 1909.
And what happened in 1909?
Isola Kennedy, California (38 years old) – Isola was a well-respected woman living in Morgan Hill, just south of San Jose. She was engaged to a dentist, frequently attended local parties and was president of the regional Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She also taught a Sunday school class and one July day during the summer of 1909 she took five young boys from her class on a picnic to a popular spot along Coyote Creek. After lunch the boys went to cool off in a nearby stream. A female mountain lion jumped out from the bushes and slashed an eight year old child named Earl Wilson. He fell backwards into the creek and the cat pounced on him and sunk its teeth in.
Hearing the children’s screams, Isola picked up a stick and rushed at the animal, which turned around and attacked her. The other children ran off and got the attention of a man named Jack Conlan, who was surveying for the local water company. He grabbed a shotgun and raced to the creek, where he found the lion on top of Isola. She was defending herself with a hat pin. “That poor woman was struggling as best she could,” remarked Jack. “I finally got a shot at the beast, but it paid no attention.”
He tried to butt the cat in the head with his shotgun, but to no effect. Jack then ran back to his camp and got his rifle and bullets, a trip that took about 15 minutes. When he returned Isola was still under the mountain lion. Jack told her to lie still and shot the animal behind the left shoulder. He then put the barrel into its mouth and fired. “The lion reared, then sank its teeth and all four claws into Isola and after a few struggles, died,” he said.
The next day both young Earl and Isola were examined by physicians. One of her ears had been completely torn off, the other was badly cut. She had a cut above her right eye that went all the way through to the bone and deep gashes up and down her arms, legs and back. Her injuries were not fatal, but unfortunately for both victims the mountain lion had rabies. Isola suffered for many weeks and died that September, just over two months after the attack. She is buried at the Mount Hope Cemetery, in Morgan Hill. Inscribed on her tombstone is a simple but epic epitaph:
“Sacrificed her life battling a lion to save some small boys.”