911 calls released from fatal lion attack of intern at North Carolina zoo

A staff member at the Conservators Center can be heard on 911 calls telling a dispatcher that there had been a lion attack and that the victim was "incapacitated."

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

North Carolina state investigators Tuesday said they are looking into whether safety protocols were breached after a lion got loose and killed an intern at a zoo as dramatic 911 calls from the facility after the attack were released.

A staff member at the Conservators Center in Burlington can be heard on 911 calls from Sunday telling a dispatcher that there's been a lion attack and the person hurt is "incapacitated."

The 911 caller indicated breathlessly that she was headed to the enclosure. When the dispatcher asked for an age, the caller gave the age of the lion — 14. The dispatcher clarified that she was asking about "the person that's hurt."

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"Mid-20s," the caller said.

Alexandra Black, a 22-year-old intern at the zoo who had been working there 10 days, was killed when the lion escaped an enclosure he was being held in while workers were cleaning his dwelling space. The lion, a 14-year-old named Matthai, was shot and killed so that responders could retrieve Black.

The zoo has been closed since the incident, which the Caswell Sheriff’s Office was investigating. On Tuesday, North Carolina's Occupational Safety and Health Division opened their own investigation "to determine whether or not any occupational safety and health standards were violated and/or contributed to the incident."

The Conservators Center is regulated by the USDA, but is not accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is considered a private owner of the more than 80 animals housed there.

The center employs about 12 people full-time "and is a hub of volunteer activity," their site says.

PETA and the North Carolina chapter of the Humane Society are both calling for a ban on nonaccredited and private ownership of wild animals.

"Humans and captive animals will keep losing their lives as long as unaccredited roadside zoos like the so-called 'Conservators Center' keep imprisoning dangerous animals for entertainment," PETA said in a statement Monday.

Black's family said she "died following her passion." She had recently graduated from Indiana University with a degree in animal sciences and previously interned at Wolf Park in her home state of Indiana.