Three tranquilizer darts were also shot at the animal, according to an incident report from the Caswell County Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Michael Griggs detailed the confrontation with the lion after it attacked 22-year-old Alexandra Black, a recent college graduate who was working as a husbandry intern at the Conservators Center.
The center said that the lion escaped while the husbandry team was cleaning its enclosure and it attacked Black in a nearby area.
Griggs said that he arrived at the center and was informed that the lion was running around and that the fire department had water lines set up to spray the lion if it got close to Black again.
The center’s animal manager was waiting on a tranquilizer gun to try to put down the animal.
The manager, Douglas Evans, had to rush to his house to get a blowgun after the tranquilizer gun finally arrived but got jammed. He used the blowgun to hit the lion with two tranquilizer darts, hoping to put the lion to sleep, but “the lion showed no signs of becoming sleepy” and was “walking around in circles and growling,” reported the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the report.
After a third dart failed to put the lion down, officials decided to use deadly force.
Griggs and another officer shot the lion eight times in total to ensure that it died, with the final one being detailed by Griggs, who aimed for the heart per instructions from Evans.
“I was able to take a safe and clear shot into the lion’s left body area where Mr. Evans stated the shot should be placed,” Griggs wrote, reported Fox 8, which obtained a copy of the report. Evans then approached the animal and confirmed that it was dead, and paramedics rushed into Black but found that she was dead.
Griggs used a 12-gauge shotgun. The gun used by other officers was not detailed.
Conservators Center’s Lions
The center was founded in 1999 by longtime wildlife organization volunteers and employees Evans and Mindy Stinner as an educational nonprofit dedicated to providing a home for select carnivore species.
In 2004, the center accepted 14 lions and tigers that were part of a larger confiscation of animals living in unacceptable conditions, according to the center’s “about” page. The lion that killed a person before being put down, Matthai, was a 14-year-old male born to one of those lions.
“The Center’s population of large cats expanded from three big cats to over 30 individuals in a matter of a few months. Because of the decision to maintain these animals on site, the business plan of the organization was shifted to include opening the park to the public to provide enough funding to support the expanded population. With that shift, the Center opened its doors to the public in 2007 with its first guided, walking tours,” the center stated.
The center now houses over 80 animals across more than 21 species and welcomes over 16,000 visitors a year.
A government inspector counted 16 lions among 85 total animals in 2018. The center’s website lists 15 lions as of Jan. 3; Matthai is not among them.
The center has closed indefinitely after the attack.
People who live near the center said they typically enjoy having the animals nearby. Shirley Brown, who can see the Conservators Center from her backyard, told WFMY: “We love it. We hear the animals when we go out in the morning, you hear lions roaring and the wolves howling.”
“It’s unique, and it’s a nice thing to have,” she added. She called the lion attack a “very sad mistake on someone’s part.”
“Caused a lot of hurt,” she said. “An animal is dead, a person is dead, and evidently this young girl was finally doing what she always wanted to do, and very sad it ended this way.”