Letter from Alex Black's aunt asks for stricter laws at zoos, animal sanctuaries after fatal lion attack

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The aunt of Alex Black, the 22-year-old woman who was killed when a lion escaped its enclosure at the Conservator Center in January, is helping push for a new law to strengthen training at zoos and animal sanctuaries.

Virginia Black wrote a letter to the North Carolina House Judiciary Committee urging its lawmakers to pass House Bill 577, which would prohibit owning, possessing, importing, purchasing or selling big cats, bears, hyenas and great apes in certain situations. She also asked them to strengthen the bill by holding the centers more accountable.


She said measures added to the bill should include:

  • Safety plans that are reported approved by a law enforcement agencies
  • Safety drills should be routine for zoos and sanctuaries
  • Sanctuaries and zoos where a person has been killed or injured where investigation has revealed a lack of proper safety drills, equipment and protocols should no longer be able to keep dangerous wild animals
  • Such centers should be required to maintain liability insurance in an amount not less than $250,000 for each occurrence of property damage, bodily injury or death by a wild animal in its possession

Her push came just weeks after keepers were attacked in Ukraine and Kansas. While those individuals lived, she said her niece was not so lucky, blaming a lack of planning and accessibility to guns.

Virginia said Alex had been working with the center for 10 days when the attack happened.

Officials said Alex and another intern were tasked with safely moving the lion from one enclosure to another.

During that time, Alex was in the park preparing deer meat for the lions when the escape happened. Rather than panic when coming face-to-face with the lion, she kept calm and tired to keep his focus on her by distracting the animal with the meat. The lion then attacked and dragged Alex back to an enclosure.

"I will not outline the steps the center took to save the lion while my niece lay bleeding out," Virginia's letter read. "It is possible that she died too quickly to be helped, even if medical personnel were able to reach her in a more timely manner. In a way, we hope that she did. But the center apparently made an early decision that she had died, and the priority became saving the lion."

The letter states Alex's body remained in the enclosure for two hours while staffers tried to tranquilize the lion, who was shot eight times before dying.

Virginia's letter also criticized Conservator Center for its lack of accessible firearms, adding that when a staffer retrieved a tranquilizer gun, he had to read the instructions on how to assemble it.

"A witness to the scene, who does not want to be identified because of possible repercussions, told me that no weapons were stored anywhere near the enclosure," the letter read. "The center did not retrieve a firearm at any time."

The woman critiqued the park, saying that it appeared there was no plan in place for unfortunate situations like this one.

A toxicology report was performed on Black, which found that no alcohol was present in her system. Virginia questioned if the supervisor had to undergo the same testing, because she wants to know how the lion was able to get out and who was responsible?

"We might never know why the lion was able to walk out of his enclosure. Clearly, it was human error," Virginia wrote.
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