A lion who escaped his enclosure at the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina, attacked and killed a 22-year-old female intern on Sunday, December 30.
In a statement posted on its official Facebook page, the Conservators Center explained that it is “devastated by the loss of a human life.”
A team “led by a professionally trained animal keeper” was performing a routine cleaning of the lion enclosure when one of the animals “somehow left a locked space and entered the space the humans were in and quickly killed one person.”
The center does not currently know how Matthai, the lion, was able to escape the locked enclosure, but there is an ongoing investigation and it will update the public once more information is uncovered.
In the meantime, the Conservators Center “will be closed until further notice.”
The victim is 22-year-old Alexandra Black of New Palestine, Indiana, who had only been working at the center as an intern for approximately two weeks. According to her LinkedIn profile, she was a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Behavior. She had minored in biology, and her life’s goal was to become a zookeeper.
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Did you know that our Matthai Lion is named after Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan peace activist and environmentalist who won the Nobel Prize around the time Matthai was born? Wangari was the first female professor in Kenya, and we're honored to have our very own Matthai right here.
“Our beautiful, intelligent, passionate Alex had worked, unpaid, at several animal-related ventures, most recently at Wolf Park in Battleground, Indiana,” said Black’s family in a statement, according to RTV6.
“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.”
In order for officials from the Caswell County Sheriff’s Department to retrieve Black’s body from the area where she died, they attempted to tranquilize Matthai several times, but failed and had to fatally shoot him, reported CBS News.
According to the lion’s bio on the Conservators Center‘s website, Matthai was “a little nervous by nature” and shy around visitors to the park, but “an enthusiastic recipient of attention from the people he [knew] best.”
The Conservators Center is a nonprofit, charitable organization that was founded in 1999 and is currently home to more than 20 different species of animals for visitors to see “wildly up close,” including foxes, coyotes, wolves, leopards, tigers, and lemurs.