The lion was shot and killed after attempts to tranquilize the animal failed, deputies said. A "husbandry team" led by a professionally trained animal keeper was carrying out the routine cleaning when the lion somehow got loose, the center said in a statement.
It wasn't clear how the lion escaped the area that was supposed to be locked, said the center, which is closed until further notice. "This is the worst day of my life. We've lost a person. We've lost an animal. We have lost the faith in ourselves a little today," said Mindy Stinner, the executive director of the Conservators Center, according to WTVD-TV .
Black graduated from Indiana University in May with a degree in animal behavior, according to her LinkedIn page . She had been working at the center for about two weeks, her family said. "She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning," Black's family said in a statement, according to news outlets. "But, she died following her passion."
The center said the lion was fatally shot to allow county personnel to retrieve Black. The facility was founded in 1999 and is in Burlington, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Raleigh. On its website, the center said it began giving public tours in 2007 and gets more than 16,000 visitors annually. It has more than a dozen employees and currently houses more than 80 animals and more than 21 species.
The center says it took in 14 lions and tigers in 2004 to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture with caring for animals that were living in "unacceptable conditions."
This story has been corrected to show that Black graduated from Indiana University, not Indiana State University.