Lion Shot, Killed After It Escaped and Killed 22-Year-Old Intern at North Carolina Zoo

Mimi Nguyen Ly

A lion at a North Carolina zoo escaped a locked enclosure and killed a 22-year-old who was working as an intern at the zoo. The Conservators Center in Burlington announced on Dec. 30 that the intern was killed when she was conducting a routine cleaning of the enclosure at about 11:30 a.m.

She was identified as Alexandra Black by the Caswell County Sheriff’s Office. Black is a native of New Palestine in Indiana and had graduated from Indiana State University earlier in 2018.

Authorities said she had been employed at the center for just 10 days, according to ABC News.

The Conservators Center said in a statement that it was “devastated by the loss of a human life.”

In the statement, the center explained: “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.”

“Several attempts to tranquilize the lion failed,” Lt. Darrell McLean with the Caswell County Sheriff’s Office said, according to the Times-News.

Because of this, sheriff deputies shot and killed the lion, named Matthai, in order to retrieve Black’s body.

“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,” the zoo said in its statement. “There were visitors onsite, and we used our established safety protocol to ensure a safe and immediate exit from the animal park.”

“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.”

‘Beautiful, Intelligent, Passionate’

Black’s family told the Indy Star in a statement that Black loved animals and “died following her passion.”

They said that Black had landed her fourth internship, and this time it was out of state.

“She was looking forward to this first out-of-state internship at the Conservators Center in North Carolina 10 days ago,” Black’s family said in a statement on Dec. 30.

“Our beautiful, intelligent, passionate Alex had worked, unpaid, at several animal-related ventures,” the family said in a statement. “This was her fourth internship because she really wanted to make a career of working with animals.”

The center said it does not know how the lion escaped and is investigating the incident.

“This person’s passion was the zoological industry—this was not this person’s first internship,” said Mindy Stinner, executive director and co-founder of the center, according to CBS17.

“This person wanted to spend a lifetime around these animals,” Stinner said through tears during a news conference late on Dec. 30.

Black was working under the supervision of a staff member when she died.

The Conservators Center,  located at 676 E. Hughes. Mill Road, is closed pending further updates.

The center is a refuge for unwanted or confiscated animals, including lions, tigers, wolves, and foxes. It houses some 80 animals spanning 21 different species, according to its website.

In 2004, the zoo accepted 14 lions and tigers that “were part of a larger confiscation of animals living in unacceptable conditions,” according to its website.