A lion mauled a worker to death at a North Carolina wildlife preserve on Sunday after the animal escaped a locked enclosure, the facility said.
Staff at the Conservators Center in Caswell County, near the Virginia border, were carrying out a “routine enclosure cleaning” when one of the lions somehow left a locked space and entered the one where the humans were working, the facility said in a statement obtained by HuffPost.
The worker was killed quickly, the statement added.
The Caswell County Sheriff’s Office identified the victim as 22-year-old Alexandra Black. She was a recent graduate of Indiana State University and had been working as a college intern at the facility for approximately two weeks.
“Several attempts to tranquilize the lion failed,” the sheriff’s statement said. “The lion was shot and killed by Caswell County deputies in order to allow officials to retrieve the victim.”
Authorities responded to the center around 11:30 a.m., Raleigh station WRAL reported.
“It is unclear at this time how the lion left the locked enclosure,” the facility’s statement said, adding that the cleaning staff was working under the guidance of a professionally trained animal keeper. “The lion was shot and killed to allow Caswell County personnel to retrieve the worker.”
It’s not clear if the preserve was open or hosting guests at the time of the incident. The facility did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
The Conservators Center is a nonprofit organization that cares for more than 80 animals on 45 acres. It is run by a small staff, many of whom are volunteers, and offers public and private tours that require reservations, according to its website.
Its dozens of residents include 15 lions, 10 of which were taken in after Ohio authorities found them living in poor conditions in 2004. Three of those 10 lions were pregnant at the time and gave birth to more than 10 cubs, the facility’s website says.
“Some arrive young and healthy, some elderly or ill, and some are even born here,” the website says of its many animals. “Though each animal has a unique story and personality — with their own likes, dislikes, and needs — they have one thing in common: they are all valued, loved, and well cared for at the Conservators Center.”
The center said it will remain closed pending further notice.
This story has been updated with a statement from the local sheriff’s office.