PORTLAND — The owners of a suburban Portland wildcat sanctuary where a longtime employee was mauled to death by a cougar this weekend said Tuesday that a gate to a smaller cage where the animals should’ve been locked up was operating properly.
WildCat Haven in Sherwood said its head keeper, 36-year-old Renee Radziwon-Chapman of Portland, broke a safety protocol that calls for two qualified workers in an enclosure with animals. Radziwon-Chapman was alone, cleaning the main enclosure, when one of the cougars attacked her Saturday.
Two cougars were found roaming freely in the main enclosure where Radziwon-Chapman was killed, WildCat Haven said in a statement. Another cougar was secured in the smaller, 15-by-15 cage within it.
Radziwon-Chapman died at the scene of multiple bite wounds, autopsy results showed. Family said they don’t believe the wife and new mother broke any rules, and she had expressed concerns about working alone just days before the attack.
Her death was eerily similar to that of 24-year-old Dianna Hanson, who was killed by a lion earlier this year at a central California wildcat park. Hanson also was attacked while cleaning an enclosure.
Hanson died after one of two lions escaped from a smaller cage into a main enclosure and attacked her. She, too, was working alone — though another facility employee was in contact with her via walkie-talkie.
In that case, authorities concluded Hanson failed to secure the latch of the smaller cage’s gate.
Authorities have directed no blame in the Oregon death but have released few details about its circumstances. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said it concluded no crime was committed.
The sanctuary says its safety handbook specifies that a staff member can enter an enclosure to clean or make repairs only after the animals are locked out of it.
The facility’s main enclosure is surrounded on all sides by a 14-foot wall of thick wire with secure ceilings. It includes the smaller cage where the animals can be locked up, along with a double-door entry.
Radziwon-Chapman’s mother, Carol Radziwon, told The Associated Press her daughter was very careful around the animals and had written some of WildCat Haven’s safety rules.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are still investigating.
The USDA will try to determine if any noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act contributed to the attack, spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa said. As in the California case, USDA investigators will look at whether proper enclosures were in place and whether they were in good working order.
Oregon OSHA also will review the sanctuary’s safety protocols and training, spokeswoman Melanie Mesaros said.
Sanctuary officials said Tuesday they’re also launching an investigation into the death. They’ve retained wild animal expert Tim Harrison of Ohio-based Outreach for Animals to review safety protocols and audit the facility.
WildCat Haven president Michael Tuller told authorities that Radziwon-Chapman was alone because he and his wife — sanctuary executive director Cheryl Tuller — were at a property in another town where they plan to eventually move the operation.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the cougar that attacked Radziwon-Chapman would be put down.
WildCat Haven, located in a secluded, wooded area 17 miles south of Portland, is a nonprofit that rescues captive-born cougars, bobcats, tigers and other wild cats. It houses about 60 cats and is closed to the public.
Radziwon-Chapman, who originally was from Philadelphia, leaves behind a husband and a 5-month-old daughter. She graduated from Portland State University with a biology degree and had more than 20 years of experience with domestic animals and wildcats, family members said.
“Renee’s time with us was much too brief, but her drive to help all animals made an impact that will stay with everyone she knew and many she didn’t know,” her family said in a statement.
Radziwon-Chapman’s husband, Aaron Chapman, set up an online donation page for their daughter.