Investigative report reveals new details in deadly lion attack at Conservators Center

CASWELL COUNTY, N.C. — An investigative report shed new light on the lion attack that killed an intern at the Conservators Center.

On Dec. 30, Alexandra Black, a 22-year-old intern with the center, was cleaning the lion enclosure alongside another intern and an animal trainer, according to the report from the medical examiner.

The trainer had separated the lion, named Matthai, into a lock-out section of the enclosure.

A large play ball, however, obstructed the gate that secures the lock-out section, the witness told officials.

With the lock-out gate unsecured, the lion was able to get into the space where Black and the others were cleaning.

The lion took hold of the young woman's ankle before the trainer could close the gate and pulled Black into the enclosure.

Fire crews used a firehose to spray the lion in an unsuccessful attempt to free the woman.

Officials then fired several darts at the lion, but they failed to sedate him.

Finally, deputies shot Matthai eight times with shotguns.

The medical examiner reports the woman had multiple lacerations and puncture wounds all over her body.

On Wednesday, an attorney representing the Conservators Center released the following statement:

"The Conservators Center has received the Report of Investigation by the North Carolina Medical Examiner. We are disappointed that the information in the “Preliminary Summary of Circumstances,” based largely on an external examination, is imprecise and has already led to inaccurate and misleading reporting. Out of respect for Alex’s family, the Center is not going to comment on all of the specifics of this tragic accident and every detail of the Medical Examiner’s “Preliminary Summary of Circumstances.” But the following clarifications are important:

"First, Alex, as an intern, was not in any way responsible for this accident.

"Second, all credible evidence indicates that Alex was killed almost instantly by Matthai, and the first responders on scene were conducting a recovery and not a rescue. Any interpretation of the Medical Examiner’s “Preliminary Summary of Circumstances” that suggests Alex was alive for a considerable period of time while in the enclosure with Matthai is simply false.

"Third, when the Fire Department and then the Sheriff’s Department arrived on scene, the Center ceded control of the rescue efforts to those authorities. The Center complied with the request to tranquilize Matthai in order to attempt to recover Alex’s body. The Center believed that his euthanization likely would be necessary for testing required by the State. Unfortunately, Matthai was overstimulated after having been moved by the use of water from the fire hoses and this rendered the tranquilizer ineffective. Law enforcement then fired eight shots to kill him.

"Finally, in the wake of this tragedy, the Center has methodically reviewed its safety policies and procedures and has re-trained its staff. The Center is confident that those existing policies and procedures, when followed, are sufficient to keep the Center’s visitors, staff, and animals safe. The report that the gate to the enclosure from which Matthai escaped was obstructed from closing by a 28 inch enrichment ball is neither accurate nor plausible.

"Alex’s family has made clear to the Center that they want to work with the Center to ensure Alex’s legacy in the zoological world, which she loved. To that end, the Conservators Center will continue to work tirelessly to develop industry best practices, advancing safety precautions internally and with other zoological parks, and will continue its mission to introduce visitors and future animal husbandry professionals to rare, threatened, and endangered species.

"Out of respect for the family and because there is still an ongoing investigation the Center will not comment further on the Report or the accident at this time."

After the incident, the Conservators Center closed, but reopened about a month later.

The USDA is in charge of the investigations.

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