A head keeper at a no-kill animal sanctuary in Oregon was fatally attacked by a cougar over the weekend. Officials at the WildCat Haven Sanctuary in Sherwood, Ore., say that Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, a keeper and vet technician, was alone in an enclosure with the animal when it attacked her.
Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputies and other local emergency crews received a call of a serious attack at the sanctuary at approximately 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Clackamas County medical examiner reported that Radziwon-Chapman died on the scene from injuries consistent with a wild animal attack.
According to the Oregonian, Radziwon-Chapman hailed from Portland and had worked at the sanctuary for eight years. “Her relationship with the cats was amazing,” Jim Caliva, a board member at the organization, said. “She knew exactly what she was doing, but apparently there was a mistake. I don’t know what it could be."
Caliva said that she had relationships with all of the sanctuary’s cats. “They knew her and walked up to the fence.”
As of this writing, Sanctuary staff members had not released details about how the attack took place, but said that an investigation into the incident was under way. In a statement released on Sunday, a representative said they believed Radziwon-Chapman had been in the animal’s enclosure, unaccompanied by a second qualified staff member, as is mandated in the organization’s safety handbook. They added that the facility’s enclosures are heavily fenced and exceed what is legally required by U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that none of the animals had gotten out of an enclosure.
“She was one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Caliva said. “Something happened that shouldn’t have. I love her dearly.”
“Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our dear colleague and friend who we have so sadly lost,” Sanctuary Executive Director Cheryl Tuller said in a statement. “We are devastated by this loss. Not only was [Cheryl] one of our most dedicated staff members, we thought of her as family. We send our most heartfelt prayers to those she has left behind.”