Sanctuary officials say team mourns keeper's loss

Authorities have said that a cougar at Wildcat Haven Sancutary for big cats attacked a head keeper on Saturday, killing her.A woman killed by a big cat at a Sherwood animal sanctuary may have violated the organization's safety measures, sanctuary officials said in a statement on Sunday.

Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, of Portland, was the head keeper at the Wildcat Haven Sanctuary, a home for large cats located in rural Sherwood. She was killed after she was attacked by a cat when she reportedly entered an enclosure on her own, which was against the sanctuary’s safety protocols, according to the organization.

Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue were called to Wildcat Haven around 7 p.m. on Saturday.

The sanctuary is in the 31000 block of Heater Road in Sherwood.

"The initial report was an employee had been gravely injured on the job," authorities reported in a news release. "Once on scene, it was confirmed the employee was deceased."

In a statement posted to its website on Sunday, Executive Director Cheryl Tuller said the organization has strict rules in place to keep staff members safe.

RadziwonWhen staff members clean the animals’ enclosures or make repairs, the animals are moved to a smaller containment area, known as a “lock out,” to ensure staff members can move safely around the enclosure.

Two staff members are required to work together during lock outs of dangerous animals, Tuller said. Once the animals are removed from the enclosure, one staff member can enter to clean or make repairs.

“At this time, it is believed that Radziwon-Chapman was alone at the sanctuary and alone in the enclosure with cats, which had not been shifted into the lockout area,” the organization said in a statement.

The investigation is ongoing; however, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and the Clackamas County Medical Examiner have ruled that Radziwon-Chapman’s wounds were consistent with a wild animal attack.

Radziwon-Chapman had been head keeper at the sanctuary for eight years and was a certified veterinary technician.

Sheriff’s office officials said there were no reports that any of the animals had gotten out of their enclosures, and there was no immediate threat to residents in the surrounding areas.

“At no time was any cat outside its primary containment enclosure,” Tuller confirmed.

The enclosures are heavily fenced, with 14-foot-tall walls of six-gauge wire, with secure ceilings, lockout areas and double-door entries. Larger enclosures are also surrounded by 4-foot concrete walkways.

The enclosures exceed what is required by the USDA, which annually inspects the facility, Tuller said.

Clackamas County Deputy Mark Nikolai told The Times’ news partner KOIN 6 News that the cat that killed Radziwon-Chapman had been identified as a cougar.

Cougar attacks are especially rare, with only about 20 fatal attacks on humans since the 1890s.

In tributes to Radziwon on social media, her family asks others to pass along to her daughter what an amazing, wonderful, giving person Radziwon was.

Radziwon had recently given birth to a baby girl.

Tuller said everyone at the facility was mourning the loss of their head keeper and their friend.

“Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our dear colleague and friend who we have so sadly lost,” Tuller said. “We are devastated by this loss. Not only was she 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.”

The nonprofit sanctuary is closed to the public, but does occasionally offer tours to donors.

Founded in 2001 by Cheryl and Mike Tuller, Wildcat Haven is a no-kill sanctuary for 67 wild cats in rural Sherwood, including cougars, bob cats, servals and four tigers.

Many of the animals have a history of neglect, abandonment, or abuse, and were rescued after living in unsafe conditions.

In August, the sanctuary announced its plans to move from its 8-acre home to an 82-acre facility outside of Salem.

The Times' news partner KOIN 6 News contributed to this story.

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