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A Ball May Have Doomed Zoo Intern Killed by Lion

Witness says ball blocked gate, allowing lion to reach intern; zoo disputes account
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2019 2:01 AM CST
This Dec. 31, 2018 file photo shows a sign of Conservators' Center at the property near Burlington, NC..   (Woody Marshall/The Times-News via AP, File)

(Newser) – How did a lion at North Carolina's Conservators Center animal preserve get to intern Alexandra Black, fatally mauling her on Dec. 30? A witness tells authorities it was due to a blocked gate, according to a report obtained by WRAL. Animal trainer Ashley Watts says she separated the lion into a section of an enclosure, but the gate securing that section was obstructed by what is described by the Raleigh News & Observer as a "large play ball." Because of that, the lion was able to reach the interns who were cleaning another area of the enclosure. The lion grabbed Black before Watts could close the gate, dragging her by the ankle into the enclosure and killing her.

An attorney for the Conservators Center, however, disputes that account, telling WFMY the ball in question is a 28-inch "enrichment ball" and it would have needed to be directly underneath the gate in order to prevent it from closing. "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 lawyer says in a statement. The North Carolina Medical Examiner's Office says Black's cause of death was "multi-traumatic deep lacerations to the neck with significant blood loss." (A 2-year-old was hurt last month after falling into the rhino enclosure at another zoo.)

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