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An escaped lion has been shot dead at an animal sanctuary in North Carolina after killing a recently hired college intern.

The Conservators Center said the lion had gotten out of its enclosure on Sunday while a keeper was carrying out a routine clean.

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 the body of the worker – Alexandra Black – 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."

Police said Ms Black, 22, was from New Palestine in Indiana and was a recent graduate of Indiana State University.

She was a college intern and had only been employed at the centre for about two weeks.

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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.

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