BURLINGTON, N.C. – A lion kills a young worker at a wildlife conservatory on Sunday, after being released from a locked space, the center said.
Alexandra Black, 22, from New Palestine, Indiana, was killed on Sunday after being attacked by lions in a cage that was being cleaned at the Conservatory Center, the news agency reported, citing a statement from the Caswell County Sheriff's Office.
The lion was shot and killed after efforts to calm the animal failed, the deputies said.
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A "maintenance team" led by professionally trained animal guards is conducting routine cleaning when the lion is somehow released, the center said in a statement.
It is not clear how the lion escaped from the area that was supposed to be locked, said the center, which was closed until further notice.
"This is the worst day of my life. We lost someone. We lost an animal. We have lost a little confidence in ourselves today, "said Mindy Stinner, executive director of the Conservatory Center, according to WTVD-TV.
Black graduated from Indiana University in May with a degree in animal behavior, according to his LinkedIn page. He has worked in the conservatory for about two weeks, his family said.
"He is a beautiful young woman who just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning," the Black family said in a statement, according to news outlets. "But, he died because of his desire."
The center said the lion was shot dead to allow regional personnel to take Black.
The facility was founded in 1999 and is in Burlington, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Raleigh.
On its website, the center said it began giving a public tour in 2007 and got more than 16,000 visitors every year. It has more than a dozen employees and currently holds more than 80 animals and more than 21 species.
The center said it was necessary for 14 lions and tigers in 2004 to help the US Department of Agriculture treat animals living in "unacceptable conditions."