A 26-year-old female intern was killed Wednesday afternoon by an African lion inside a cage at an exotic cat sanctuary in California, authorities said.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family at this critical time," said Dale Anderson, founder of Project Survival Cat Haven in Dunlap.
The lion, a 5-year-old, 350-pound cat named Cous Cous, was shot and killed, officials said.
"Another employee had made several attempts to distract the lion away from the victim and into another enclosure prior to the deputy's arrival, but all attempts failed," the Fresno County Sheriff's Office said in a news release.
A sheriff's deputy shot and killed the lion and then gave medical assistance to the worker, it said. "The victim died at the scene."
The head of The Jungle Jenny Foundation, which focuses on conservation of endangered species, said she had been in Cous Cous' cage before, accompanied by a park worker.
She said there was no indication from the lion that he was dangerous.
"I didn't see any type of aggressive behavior," Jenny Michaels told CNN's Piers Morgan.
She said the workers at the park were top-notch.
"It was really well run, very professional," she said. "I don't know the circumstances (of the attack) but I can tell you that in my interaction over at Project Survival they have been professional and ... they have run their protocol strictly."
Noted animal expert Jack Hanna said that even if the woman had known the lion, a big cat can be unpredictable in the way it reacts to what it sees or hears.
"They are wild animals, end of story," he said. "No matter what anyone says, they are wild animals."
Hanna said it would be unusual for someone to enter an adult lion's cage without another person or with someone close by.
"All animals are dangerous, all have capability to bite," said Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary's Curt LoGiudice. "They all have teeth, that means they could chew."
LoGiudice serves as curator at Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary on the northside of Jacksonville. He has worked with exotic animals for more than 30 years, and said he is disturbed by what happened in California and grateful it's never happened at Catty Shack.
"I can't speak for there, but here we have certain protocols we go by," said LoGiudice. "We work together in teams, it's important."
LoGuidice told Channel 4 that Catty Shack provides barriers and calls for the care of both animals, and the people venturing onto the Sanctuary grounds which LoGiudice said is an incredible undertaking.
"Just as dog and cat owners have a major responsibility themselves," said LoGiudice. "To keep in the yard, or don't bite the neighbor or hurt a child. It's a huge responsibility, and it's team work that makes it happen here."
Project Survival said it would investigate whether safety protocol was followed.
Cat Haven is a 100-acre wooded sanctuary that is home to "some of the rarest cats in the world," including lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards, according to its website.