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Keeper killed at Oregon wildcat sanctuary was alone in cage, director says

An employee at an Oregon animal sanctuary was killed when she was alone in a cougar cage, the organization said Sunday.

Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, of Portland, Ore., had been the head keeper at WildCat Haven Sanctuary for nearly a decade before she was killed Saturday evening.

"Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with the family of our dear colleague and friend who we have so sadly lost," said WildCat Haven Executive Director Cheryl Tuller in a statement. "We are devastated by this loss."

The sanctuary, which rescues captive-born wild cats, has stringent safety measures for employees and volunteers, according to the statement.

Sanctuary officials believe that at the time of the fatal attack Radziwon-Chapman was alone at the sanctuary and alone in the enclosure with cats.

"The sanctuary's handbook specifies that "two qualified staff members shall work together during the lock out of dangerous animals. Once the animals are locked out, one staff member can safely enter the enclosure to clean or make repairs. Two qualified staff members shall be available when releasing animals from lockout areas," the statement said.

Officials said they are still investigating the incident.

At the time of the attack, no cat had escaped from the enclosures, which are surrounded on all sides by 14-foot tall walls of six-gauge wire and are safeguarded by secure ceilings, lockout area and double-door entries, according to the statement. Larger enclosures are also surrounded by four-foot concrete walkways.

“The enclosures exceed what is required by the U.S Department of Agriculture, which inspects the facility yearly,” the statement said.

Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Wurpes told the Associated Press on Saturday that the animal was locked in a cage after the attack.

Radziwon-Chapman was remembered by a colleague as a seasoned worker with an affinity for animals who may have just mysteriously slipped up.

"Her relationship with the cats was amazing," Jim Caliva, a WildCat Haven Sanctuary board member, told The Oregonian newspaper. "She knew exactly what she was doing, but apparently there was a mistake. I don't know what it could be."

The sanctuary is located in the suburb of Sherwood, just outside the city of Portland.