RALEIGH, N.C. — It took three tranquilizer darts and eight gunshots to subdue a lion that fatally attacked an intern at a North Carolina wildlife center, according to a sheriff’s incident report released Wednesday.
The Caswell County Sheriff’s Office report includes details from the time deputies arrived Sunday at the Conservators Center near Burlington but does not explain how the animal broke free while its enclosure was being cleaned. Alexandra Black, 22, was cleaning with staff members when the lion apparently escaped a separate locked holding area and fatally mauled her, authorities said.
Center staff and authorities tried nonlethal means of subduing the lion before deputies shot it, according to the sheriff’s report. A staff member had called 911 in the late morning to report that the lion attack had left Black “incapacitated,” according to a recording released by authorities.
Sgt. Michael Griggs wrote in the report that when he arrived, the lion was running around the enclosure and staff members were trying to keep the animal away from Black. Griggs said Black wasn’t moving, but he couldn’t tell what her condition was.
Griggs said the center’s CEO, Douglas Evans, told him that he intended to put the lion to sleep with a tranquilizer gun, and staff also tried to use raw meat to lure the lion back into the separate holding area. Griggs wrote that he warned he would have to shoot the lion if it attacked her again.
Evans failed several attempts to tranquilize the lion, a 14-year-old male named Matthai. First, Evans tried to load a tranquilizer gun, but it was rendered unusable when a dart appeared to break inside of it, Griggs said. He then left for his nearby house to retrieve a blowgun. Upon returning, Evans hit the lion twice with tranquilizer darts fired from the blowgun, but “the lion showed no signs of becoming sleepy” and was “walking around in circles and growling,” according to the report.
After a third tranquilizer dart failed to bring the lion down, the staff tried once more to lure the lion into a holding area. Firefighters also sprayed it with hoses to try to move it in the right direction.
But Griggs wrote that after the lion started approaching the victim again, he shot it with a 12-gauge shotgun. It took six more shots by multiple deputies to fell the lion, and Griggs wrote that Evans told them to fire a final shot into the animal’s heart to ensure it was dead.
It was only then that deputies were able to escort paramedics into the enclosure where Black lay, and they confirmed she was dead, Griggs wrote. The report doesn’t make clear how much time had elapsed since the deputies’ arrival.
The center, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Raleigh, has been closed indefinitely while an investigation continues. Center representatives didn’t immediately respond to an email asking if Evans or other center leaders wanted to comment on the report.
The attack occurred less than two weeks after Black, a recent college graduate from New Palestine, Indiana, had started working at the nonprofit wildlife facility. The center, described recently as a “community zoo” by its executive director, was founded in 1999.
USDA inspections in 2017 and 2018 found no problems at the center, according to government reports. A government inspector counted 16 lions among 85 total animals in 2018.
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