YANCEYVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) -- The 22-year-old intern at a wildlife conservatory who was killed in a lion attack Sunday wanted to spend "a lifetime" around animals, officials of the Caswell County facility said.
The incident happened at the Conservators Center in southern Caswell County north of Pleasant Grove, which houses 15 lions among many other animals.
According to the wildlife conservatory, the deadly attack happened as a professional animal keeper was cleaning the lion's enclosure and the lion slipped past a locked area.
The victim was identified as Alexandra Black, a recent graduate of Indiana State University, who was working at the center as an intern, Caswell County officials said.
"This person's passion was the zoological industry -- this was not this person's first internship," said Mindy Stinner, executive director and co-founder of the center.
Black had been working at the center for about two weeks and was "quickly killed" during the attack, a news release from the center said.
"This person wanted to spend a lifetime around these animals," Stinner said through tears during a news conference Sunday evening.
Stinner noted that Black was not a staff member, but "was working under the supervision of a staff member."
Caswell County officials said several attempts to tranquilize the lion failed. The lion was later killed by gunfire, which allowed Caswell County officials to retrieve Black's body.
Black was a native of New Palestine, Indiana.
"I would like to express our deepest condolences to this person's family," Stinner said.
Stinner would not identify the male lion, but law enforcement officials told CBS News the lion was named Matthai.
Stinner said the center had spoken with officials from U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the company.
The Conservators Center, at 676 E. Hughes Mill Road, will be closed until further notice.
The center, which has a Burlington address, was founded in 1999 as an educational non-profit dedicated to providing a specialized home for select carnivore species, their website says.
The Caswell County Sheriff's Office is investigating.
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