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Family of intern killed by lion at Caswell County preserve questions coroner's report

The family of Alex Black, an intern killed by a lion on Dec. 30 at a Caswell County animal preserve, has questions about a recently released coroner's report.

Posted Updated

Janine Bowen
, WRAL digital journalist
BURLINGTON, N.C. — The family of Alex Black, an intern killed by a lion on Dec. 30 at a Caswell County animal preserve, has questions about a recently released coroner's report.

The report's findings that a large play ball blocked the gate from closing properly, allowing the lion to escape its enclosure and attack Black, contradict what the Conservators Center told them, family members told WRAL News on Thursday.

The family added that the coroner's narrative reflects a scenario described only by one animal keeper, and that the injuries Black sustained are not consistent within the report.

Limited details were available, but the family was hopeful that more complete information would be released to the public soon.

According to the report released Tuesday, the lion dragged Black, 22, around by her neck. Black was working with a staff member to clean an enclosure when a lion escaped its pen, killing her.

According to the report, animal trainer Ashley Watts said that the lion had been placed in a locked pen within the larger enclosure, but a large ball blocked the gate and prevented it from closing properly.

The lion entered the section of the enclosure that Black, Watts and a second intern were cleaning and began to attack.

According to the document, Watts told authorities that she attempted to separate Black from the animal and close the door to the pen, but the lion was able to bite Black’s ankle and pull her into the enclosure.

Firefighters who responded to the scene attempted to use a hose to force the lion, known as Matthai, off of Black, but were unsuccessful, the autopsy said.

The lion continued to attack, dragging Black around the enclosure for “an extended period of time,” the autopsy states. The report shows that Black died as a result of multiple traumatic deep lacerations to her neck that resulted in significant blood loss. Black also suffered several defensive wounds.

Caswell County deputies eventually had to fire eight shots to put the lion down following the attack, so that medical officials could get to Black.

A lawyer for the Conservators Center said its workers complied with the request to tranquilize the lion in an attempt to recover Black's body. Three darts that were fired, however, did not appear to slow the animal.

Deputies fired seven shots before the lion went down, but authorities fired an eighth shot into the animal’s heart to guarantee it was dead.

In a statement, Attorney Patrick Kane, representing the Conservators Center, refutes some of the Medical Examiner’s report, saying:

"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," the statement said.


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