Fatal Lion Attack Nets 3 ‘Serious’ Violations for Center

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina labor officials have cited an animal sanctuary for safety violations after a lion fatally mauled a 22-year old intern last December.

The state Occupational Safety and Health Division issued a citation Thursday for three “serious” violations to the Conservator’s Center in Caswell County.

Because Alexandra Black was an unpaid intern, the division could not issue a direct citation for her death, according to an emailed statement from the state labor department. Officials issued a citation after determining that other employees were exposed to hazards.

The citation said that all violations must be corrected immediately. The center also must pay penalties of $3,000.

In an investigation following Black’s death , the division found that the center had “ineffective procedures which resulted in a lion escaping,” and constituted a violation of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Act.

To protect employees, the citation said the center should change its procedures to match guidelines from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and/or the North Carolina Zoo. These standards include using two keepers to move lions and not depending solely on mechanical safety measures to verify that all doors are correctly locked.

The division also cited the center for not regularly inspecting and repairing the animal enclosure and said the center must maintain a preventive maintenance program to ensure that the animal enclosures function properly.

It’s unclear how a 14-year-old male lion named Matthai escaped and pulled Black back into his enclosure last December, where he dragged her around by the neck.

The medical examiner’s report said it’s possible a 28-inch wide lions’ play ball blocked the gate. The center has denied that, but offered no alternative explanation.

The third violation from the center was an “inadequate emergency response plan.” The citation states the center “would be better equipped to quickly address an escape by a dangerous animal if it kept lethal weapons on site.” The citation also said the center should have a `shoot to kill’ policy if employees are at risk, and staff should undergo regular drills on what to do in the event of an escape.

After Black was attacked, firefighters first tried to spray the lion with water from firehoses, and then center staff failed numerous attempts to tranquilize the lion, according to a Caswell County sheriff’s report.

In a letter urging lawmakers to enforce stricter regulations on animal facilities, the intern’s aunt, Virginia Black wrote, “It seems clear that if the center had a real plan for how it would react in such a situation, it had rarely or never been practiced.”

She said the center’s priority was protecting the lion and wonders whether her niece could have been saved.

When reached by phone, the center’s executive director Mindy Stinner declined to comment and referred the Associated Press to the center’s lawyer. The lawyer did not immediately respond to email or multiple phone calls.