A recently hired intern has been killed by a lion after it escaped from what was meant to be a locked enclosure.
The lion attacked Alexandra Black, 22, while the enclosure was being cleaned at the Conservators Center on Sunday.
Ms Black, who recently graduated from Indiana University, had only been working at the North Carolina wildlife park for about two weeks, her family said.
In a statement, they described her as a "beautiful young woman who had just started her career".
They added: "There was a terrible accident, and we are mourning. But, she died following her passion."
The lion was shot and killed after attempts to tranquilise it failed, police said.
Mindy Stinner, the executive director of the Conservators Center, told WTVD-TV: "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."
In a statement, the zoo park – which takes guests on up-close tours of big cats, wolves and other animals – said the lion had been killed to ensure Ms Black's body could be retrieved.
"The Conservators Center is devastated by the loss of a human life today," it said.
"While a husbandry team led by a professionally trained animal keeper was carrying out routine enclosure cleaning, one of the lions somehow left a locked space and entered the space the humans were in and quickly killed one person.
"It is unclear at this time how the lion left the locked enclosure."
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The centre specialises in select carnivore species and is home to more than 80 animals, including tigers, lions, ocelots and coyotes.
It will be closed until further notice.