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Family mourns zoo intern killed by escaped lion: 'She died following her passion'

Alexandra Black was just 10 days into her internship at a North Carolina zoo when she was killed by a lion that escaped a locked space.
/ Source: TODAY

The family of a young North Carolina zoo intern is mourning her loss after she was killed by an escaped lion on Sunday, just 10 days after she began working there.

Alexandra Black, 22, was killed after a lion escaped from a locked space during an enclosure cleaning at the Conservators Center in Burlington, near Greensboro, at around 11:30 a.m., police and zoo officials said.

In a statement, the family of the recent Indiana University graduate described her as "beautiful, intelligent, passionate" and said she had been looking forward to a life of working with animals.

"Alex loved animals,'' her family said in a statement to NBC News.

"She was a beautiful young woman who had just started her career, there was a terrible accident, and we are mourning. But she died following her passion."

The lion was shot and killed by Caswell County sheriff's deputies after they failed to tranquilize it.

"It's sad that it's a loss of life and is a loss of a majestic animal, but, you know, we had to do what we had to do,'' Caswell County Sheriff Tony Durden said on TODAY Monday.

The North Carolina chapter of the Humane Society said the lion was named Matthai. Videos on the zoo's website, which have since been removed, described the lion as "shy and nervous."

The Conservators Center was founded in 1999 and houses more than 80 animals, including 14 lions and tigers that were saved in 2004 from poor living conditions in Ohio. The sanctuary gets about 16,000 visitors a year, according to its website.

Officials have closed the center until further notice as an investigation is conducted into how the lion got loose.

"This is not a situation we've ever had before,'' Conservators Center executive director Mindy Stinner said on TODAY Monday. "Safety is a very, very important feature of running any zoological park. Working with wild animals like this is a highly skilled profession, and it's something we take very seriously. So any sort of incident like this is devastating to everyone."