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Large ball prevented pen from closing when lion killed intern at North Carolina animal preserve

Lion kills intern at N.C. animal refuge

Burlington, N.C. -- An autopsy report says an intern at a North Carolina animal preserve was killed by a lion whose pen wasn't properly closed. WRAL-TV reports authorities were told the lion was able to enter the same space as 22-year-old Alex Black because a large ball prevented the lion's pen from closing.

Black was attacked by the lion named Matthai at Conservators Center in Caswell County in December, and the report says she died from significant blood loss. Responding authorities killed the lion.

The report says trainer Ashley Watts told authorities the lion had been locked in a pen within a larger enclosure, but the pen's gate was blocked by the ball. Watts said she tried to separate Matthai and Black by closing the pen, but the lion pulled Black into the enclosure.

The Caswell County Sheriff's Office said deputies arrived on the scene and shot and killed the lion after several attempts to tranquilize it or hold it at bay with fire hoses.  

"The stress level was high," Sheriff Tony Durden told WRAL-TV at the time. "I know they're not used to having a 600-pound animal. And then having a young lady laying on the ground, so, you know, stress."

Black's family said she had been working at the conservatory for 10 days and it was the fourth internship in her young career. 

"She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning. But she died following her passion," her family said in a statement to CBS News.

The Conservators Center is home to 80 animals of 21 different species, including 15 lions, many of which were rescued from poor living conditions in Ohio in 2004, according to its website. The site described Matthai as "a little nervous by nature" but "an enthusiastic recipient of attention from the people he knows best." 

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