BURLINGTON, N.C. - A lion killed a young worker at a wildlife conservatory Sunday after it got loose from a locked space, the center said.
Alexandra Black, 22, of New Palestine, Indiana, was killed Sunday after being attacked by the lion in an enclosure that was being cleaned at the Conservators Center, news outlets reported, citing a statement from the Caswell County Sheriff's Office.
The lion was shot and killed after attempts to tranquilize the animal failed, deputies said.
The Conservators Center released this statement:
"The Conservators Center is devastated by the loss of a human life today. While a husbandry team led by a professionally trained animal keeper was carrying out a routine enclosure cleaning, one of the lions somehow left a locked space and entered the space the humans were in and quickly killed one person.
"It is unclear at this time how the lion left the locked enclosure. At no time did the lion ever enter a space that was not enclosed by the park’s perimeter fence. There were visitors onsite, and we used our established safety protocol to ensure a safe and immediate exit from the animal park.
"The lion was euthanized to allow Caswell County personnel to retrieve the worker. This is an ongoing investigation and we have no further details at this time.
"We will offer more information as we know more. The Conservators Center will be closed until further notice. We would like to express our deepest condolences to the person’s family, and they have requested that everyone respects their privacy at this time."
A "husbandry team" led by a professionally trained animal keeper was carrying out the routine cleaning when the lion somehow got loose, the center said in a statement.
It wasn't clear how the lion escaped the area that was supposed to be locked, said the center, which is closed until further notice.
"This is the worst day of my life. We've lost a person. We've lost an animal. We have lost the faith in ourselves a little today," said Mindy Stinner, the executive director of the Conservators Center, according to WTVD-TV.
Black had recently graduated from Indiana State University. She had been working at the conservatory for about two weeks, her family said.
"She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning," Black's family said in a statement, according to news outlets. "But, she died following her passion."
(Alexandra Black/photo courtesy of Black's family)
Officials said the Conservators Center is closed until further notice.
The center said the lion was fatally shot to allow county personnel to retrieve Black.
The facility was founded in 1999 and is in Burlington, about 50 miles northwest of Raleigh.
On its website, the center said it began giving public tours in 2007 and gets more than 16,000 visitors annually. It has more than a dozen employees and currently houses more than 80 animals and more than 21 species.
The center says it took in 14 lions and tigers in 2004 to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture with caring for animals that were living in "unacceptable conditions."
Black's family released the following statement:
"Alex loved animals. Our beautiful, intelligent, passionate Alex had worked, unpaid, at several animal-related ventures, most recently at Wolf Park in Battleground, Indiana. This was her fourth internship, because she really wanted to make a career of working with animals.
"She was looking forward to this first out-of-state internship at the Conservators Center in North Carolina that started 10 days ago.
"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.
"We ask that you consider donating to Wolf Park in Battleground, Indiana, to honor Alex."
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