A keeper at an Oregon sanctuary for big cats was killed over the weekend, and sanctuary officials hinted Sunday that she may have been violating safety rules when she was attacked by one of the animals.
WildCat Haven Sanctuary officials said Renee Radziwon-Chapman had been a head keeper for eight years at the Sherwood, Ore., facility in the Portland suburbs. She was found dead in an enclosure Saturday evening.
KGW News in Portland reported that she was killed by a cougar.
Clackamas County Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Wurpes told the Associated Press that the animal suspected of killing Radziwon-Chapman was locked in a cage after the attack.
Sanctuary officials said Radziwon-Chapman had not moved the animals into a "lockout" area, which is used when people clean or make repairs to an enclosure.
In a statement, the sanctuary did not outright say that Radziwon-Chapman had broken safety rules but noted that its policies required staff members to work in pairs when moving animals, and that Radziwon-Chapman appeared to be alone in the enclosure with the big cats.
The investigation is ongoing, officials said.
"We are devastated by this loss," WildCat Haven Executive Director Cheryl Tuller said in a statement. "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."
A 2010 news article reposted to WildCat Haven's site said Radziwon-Chapman was the sanctuary's first full-time employee and was married to another haven worker, Aaron Chapman.
WildCat Haven's website says the shelter, which is not open to the public, has more than 60 big cats born in captivity, including cougars, caracals, servals, bobcats, lynxes, tigers and hybrids.
According to the organization's tax records, the shelter's mission includes educating the public about the "exotic pet crisis" and promoting an "ideology of no wild animals as pets."