CANBY, Ore. – The head keeper at a wild cat sanctuary in Sherwood was killed during a cougar attack last weekend, leaving many to wonder how such a tragedy could have happened.
Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, was attacked and died Saturday night inside an enclosure at WildCat Haven. The owner said the company has hired an investigator to review all of its safety procedures.
Background: Wild cat sanctuary reviews safety after attack
A nearby animal refuge explained how they handle big cats and protect handlers from similar incidents.
A Walk on the Wild Side Refuge in Canby said they have multiple safety steps that keepers follow without fail to keep both humans and animals safe.
“When it’s time to clean a big cat’s cage, most of the time is unlocking, getting the animal in, then relocking and the whole procedure back out again,” said Olivia Robertson, who is the main handler for big cats at A Walk on the Wild Side.
Robertson said after she and her staff heard about Radziwon-Chapman’s death, they wondered is she was carrying protection.
She said the refuge’s workers have to carry mace, whistles and locks with them whenever they enter cages to keep the animals and themselves safe.
“It’s very important,” Robertson said. “I don’t know if it could have saved her life but [it might have] given her some time.”
Robertson said the refuge’s handlers hold lions and other big cats in a side area when they clean main cages and never work with the cats alone. They also lock closed gates in case an animal tries to slip a door open.
“He’s a wild animal,” she said of one of the refuge’s cats. “I respect the animals so I have to remember that.”
“Safety comes first, I have to come first. And then the animal,” she said.
KGW Reporter Pat Dooris contributed to this report.