ANDERSON, N.C. – An animal keeper at a zoological park about 50 miles from the state capital, Raleigh, was killed Sunday when a lion got out of a locked space and attacked a team cleaning its enclosure.
Conservators Center, a 45-acre wildlife park in rural Caswell County, said Alexandra Black, a 22-year-old intern, was killed instantly.
Caswell County sheriff’s deputies then tried to tranquilize the lion but failed, so the animal was killed to allow emergency personnel to retrieve Black’s body, Sheriff Tony Darden Jr. said in a statement.
Black was a native of Palestine, Indiana, about 100 miles north of Indianapolis, and a recent graduate of Indiana University. She had been working at the center for about two weeks, Darden said.
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The center did not immediately return a call for information from USA TODAY.
A professionally trained animal keeper was leading the cleanup, Conservators Center officials said. The animal park has not applied for accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, which makes available example practices to its members to ensure the safety of staff and guests.
On Friday, the center on Friday had tweeted about its 15 African lions, including “a very special lioness! This photo perfectly shows off her interesting mane. Didn’t know female lions could grow manes?”
The name of the lion that was shot and killed was not immediately released.
The Conservators Center was founded in 1999 in Mebane, North Carolina, according to its website. Two years later the center relocated to Caswell County and opened to the public in 2007 with its first guided, walking tours.
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The center is home to more than 80 animals and 21 species. It employs more than a dozen full- and part-time workers and also uses volunteers to help with its animals.
More than 16,000 people visit the park each year.
Law-enforcement and Conservators Center officials are investigating Sunday’s incident. The zoo will be closed until further notice, and it was uncertain Sunday whether the park’s Jan. 5 Tree Toss, where the animals receive leftover Christmas trees to chew on and play with, will be open for public viewing.
Contributing: Manning Franks, WFMY-TV, Greensboro, N.C., from Anderson.