“We have had a lion attack,” an official at the Conservators Center in Caswell County begins in the call, which was obtained by The News & Observer.
“A lion attack?” the dispatcher responds, to which the official replies: “Yes, ma’am.”
The dispatcher then asks about the condition of the person who was attacked. “They’re incapacitated,” the person from the center says.
The lion was contained, the official said.
The lion escaped from an enclosure at the nonprofit while a husbandry team led by a professionally trained animal keeper was carrying out a routine enclosure cleaning, the center said in a statement.
The lion “somehow left a locked space and entered the space the humans were in and quickly killed one person. It is unclear at this time how the lion left the locked enclosure,” the center stated.
The lion was euthanized so that emergency workers could retrieve the victim.
The center was founded in 1999 by longtime wildlife organization volunteers and employees Douglas 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.
On its website and Facebook page, the center advertises “once-in-a-lifetime-experiences” with animals. One part states: “Roar with lions from 5 feet away!”
The woman mauled to death by the lion was later identified as Alexandra Black, who had recently begun a husbandry internship at the center.
“Although Alex was with us for a very short time, she made an impact on our community. We are a close-knit family of paid staff and volunteers and are devastated by the loss of this vibrant, smart young woman,” the center stated.
“Alex had undertaken multiple internships, the most recent of which was at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana. Her family has asked for those who would like to honor her memory to consider donating to Wolf Park, and we echo that request here.”
In a statement released after her death, Black’s family said that “she died following her passion.”
“She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning,” the family said in the statement.