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North Carolina Lion Attack Sparks Demand for Change

LeeAnn Riddle   |  January 8, 2019   |  

On December 29, 2018, a woman was killed by a lion at the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina while cleaning an animal enclosure.

It was reported that intern Alexandra Black was working with a professional animal keeper when she was mauled to death by a 14-year old lion named Matthai.

The lion had been locked in a separate enclosure but somehow escaped and attacked the young woman, killing her.

Demanding Change in North Carolina Wild Animal Laws

According to the Humane Society of the United States, North Carolina and four other states in the nation have little or no laws for keeping wild animals such as lions, bears, and primates in captivity. With the recent attack, there is a new focus on how exotic animals should be kept in private facilities regulated throughout the state.

This horrible incident illustrates the need for stronger legislation to better restrict the private possession of dangerous wild animals. North Carolina has strong laws protecting people who are injured by domestic animals such as dogs and cats and even some strict liability that applies to attacks by wild animals but this attack is different since it occurred at a conservatory. Workers in these facilities understand the dangers associated with their duties to care for the animals.

Many states have cracked down on private ownership of wild animals. North Carolina, however, was one of the last states in the country to consider and adopt legislation to protect animals and people in this area of harboring wild animals. There have been numerous attempts by state legislatures to pass this type of law in North Carolina, but it hasn’t happened yet.

In 2015, a bill was proposed in North Carolina to regulate the possession and breeding of non-native and wild animals, barring the public display of privately owned animals. A diluted version of the bill passed the state House of Representatives but later died in the state Senate.

Compensation for Wild Animal Attacks

Animal attacks are no stranger to the team at Riddle & Brantley. For over 30 years, our attorneys have helped victims of dog bites and other animal attacks recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and more.

Although the Conservators Center attack is slightly different since the lion was being held legally in a conservatory, there may still be an opportunity for the victim’s family to recover compensation for their loss. Under North Carolina law, strict liability applies to wild animal attacks that cause injury to people and property. While Black volunteered for her position and knew the potential risks, her family is still likely entitled to compensation under Workers’ Compensation laws and other provisions of our justice system.

Hopefully, following this tragic event, North Carolina and other states will take swift action to protect its citizens from similar attacks. “This type of legislation would protect employees and visitors of wild animal conservatories, ultimately protecting our communities,” said Attorney Gene Riddle.