A lion escaped its enclosure and killed a recent college graduate at a North Carolina conservatory during a routine cleaning, the center said Sunday. The lion was later shot and killed.
The fatal attack occurred at the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina, about 50 miles northwest of Raleigh, CBS News confirmed.
The Caswell County Sheriff’s Office identified the victim as 22-year-old Alexandra Black from New Palestine, Indiana, an intern who recently graduated from Indiana University Bloomington.
The center said Black was among a group of employees cleaning the enclosure under the direction of an animal keeper. One of the lions, a male named Matthai, managed to escape a locked area and approach the group.
The lion “quickly killed” Black, the sheriff’s office said.
Image: Alexandra Black
Several attempts to sedate the lion were unsuccessful, and deputies eventually shot and killed the lion to safely retrieve the victim’s body. It remains unclear how the lion managed to get out.
“This person’s passion was the zoological industry. This was not this person’s first internship,” Mindy Stinner, the center’s executive director, said of Black in a news conference Sunday. “This person wanted to spend a lifetime around these animals. I believe the family was very supportive of that.”
Black’s family said she had been working at the conservatory for 10 days and it was the fourth internship in her young career.
“She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning. But she died following her passion,” her family said in a statement to CBS News.
The Conservators Center is home to 80 animals of 21 different species, including 15 lions, many of which were rescued from poor living conditions in Ohio in 2004, according to its website. The site described Matthai as “a little nervous by nature” but “an enthusiastic recipient of attention from the people he knows best.”
A video on the center’s YouTube page shows Matthai roaring.
The center said it was “devastated by the loss of a human life” and will be closed until further notice.