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Details emerge about lion attack that killed NC wildlife center intern

Escaped lion kills 22-year-old worker at NC preserve

A lion that escaped its enclosure and killed one person Sunday at a North Carolina preserve was fatally shot, according to a news release from the Conservators Center. The victim was identified as Alexandra Black.
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A lion that escaped its enclosure and killed one person Sunday at a North Carolina preserve was fatally shot, according to a news release from the Conservators Center. The victim was identified as Alexandra Black.

The intern who died during a lion attack at a North Carolina wildlife center in December was dragged by her neck inside the animal’s cage.

Alex Black, a recent college graduate, had just begun an internship at The Conservators Center when she was attacked by a lion while trying to clean its cage. The center straddles the Alamance-Caswell County line and offers tours to view more than 80 animals, including tigers and lions.

The North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office released its “report of investigation,” but an autopsy has yet to be released.

“(Black) died from multi-traumatic deep lacerations to the neck with significant blood loss,” according to the report.

A “large play ball” prevented a gate from securely locking and the animal — a 14-year-old lion named Matthai — was able to enter the cage where animal trainer Ashley Watts, Black and another intern were cleaning, according to the report’s narration based on interviews with witnesses and law enforcement officers.

The lion was able to bite Black’s foot and pull her into the cage, where she was attacked. Fire Department staff members attempted to use a fire hose to separate the lion from Black, but were unsuccessful. The Conservator Center’s staff also tried to sedate the lion three different times but were unable to.

Caswell County Sheriff’s Office employees eventually shot the lion eight times to “ensure that the decedent’s body could be safely recovered.”

Black had multiple “traumatic injuries” including claw wounds to her shoulders, torso, abdomen and thigh, a bite wound on her shoulder and deep cuts to her neck that fractured her spinal cord.

The center remained closed after the Dec. 30 attack until Feb. 2 when it reopened to the public.

“The loss of Alex in this tragedy has impacted all of us in ways we cannot articulate,” according to a January statement from The Conservators Center. “Alex had a passion for animals that was evident to anyone who had the privilege of knowing her. Losing Alex so early in her career is a loss for the entire zoological and conservation community. The support within these circles is a testament to the impact she already made. As we continue our mission of education and conservation, we do so with the memory of her in our hearts.”

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University. Reach her at 919-829-4807 or ajohnson@newsobserver.com.
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