WATCH: Lion kills young worker at US wildlife sanctuary

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A lion killed a young worker at a wildlife conservatory on Sunday after it got loose from a locked space, the centre said.

Alexandra Black, 22, of New Palestine, Indiana, was killed after being attacked by the lion in an enclosure that was being cleaned at the Conservators Centre, news outlets reported, citing a statement from the Caswell County Sheriff's Office.

The lion was shot and killed after attempts to tranquilise 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 Centre, according to WTVD-TV .

Black had graduated from Indiana University in May with a degree in animal behavior, according to her LinkedIn page. She had been working at the conservatory 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 centre said the lion was fatally shot to allow county personnel to retrieve Black.

The facility was founded in 1999 and is in Burlington, about 80km northwest of Raleigh.

On its website, the centre 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 centre says it took in 14 lions and tigers in 2004 to assist the US Department of Agriculture with caring for animals that were living in "unacceptable conditions".

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