Letter reveals Hanson’s introduction to big cats

The woman mauled to death by a lion Wednesday at an animal sanctuary east of Fresno wrote about her introduction to big cats in a letter to her family.

Dianna Hanson’s father, Paul Hanson, posted the 2011 letter on his Facebook page.

The younger Hanson, 24, was a volunteer at Cat Haven, operated by Project Survival. She was attacked by a 4-year-old male African lion in the animal’s enclosure.

Her letter:

Hard to believe another four years has gone by and how so much has happened. Come June I’ll be graduating from Western Washington University with a B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, Organismal Biology and a minor in Anthropology.

During my time at Western I’ve been working as a ski instructor at Mt. Baker Ski Resort. One day, while I was teaching a little boy named Tobin, we got stuck on a chairlift and I asked him what his favorite animal was to pass the time. His reply was “Tigers, because my grandparents own some!”

That was when I got introduced to Dean and Debra Akre, and their four big cats.

For the last two and a half years I have been learning how to care for these animals and come next February, my father has given me a plane ticket for my graduation present, allowing me to accompany Debra to Nakuru, Kenya, where I will be able to see not only the amazing work she’s done through Tembo Trading in helping the education system of the country, but to also volunteer with Project Survival on the Soysambu Conservancy.

While on Soysambu I will be volunteering at the Cheetah research center, which is run by Project Survival. Project Survival’s mission is to conserve the cheetah population through education of the local people, they have a facility in California known at Cathaven [sic], which operates in a similar fashion. The owners of Cathaven have invited me to see this facility, so I’m hoping to get down there this summer.

Anyway, I’ll be busy, busy, busy this summer working at the Shoreline pool as well as updating my resume and applying for animal husbandry and animal keeping internships. Some of these internships that I will be applying for include Tiger Creek facility in Tyler, TX, and the Turpentine Creek facility in Eureka Springs, AK.

And I would now like to say thank-you to all of you, as you all in some way have influenced me at some point in my life and helped me to achieve my goals. As my mother can tell you, I have had the goals of working with big cats since she adopted a tiger in my name when I was seven and I’m happy to say that with the support of my mom, dad, step-father and everyone else in my life, I’m getting there. I wish you all the best in your own lives.


Dianna Hanson

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