WildCat Haven Zookeeper Begged Boss Not To Be Left Alone In Cougar Habit Found Dead, Family Suing

WildCat Haven zookeeper Renee Radziwon-Chapman reportedly texted her boss begging not to be left alone in the cougar habit was ultimately attacked and killed inside the enclosure. Radziwon-Chapman’s body was found at the Portland area zoo with two cougars roaming nearby last year. Her estate has now filed a lawsuit against both the animal sanctuary and its owners.

Renee Radziwon-Chapman reportedly sent a text to Cheryl Tuller, a co-owner of the WildCat Haven animal sanctuary sharing her concerns about working alone with the big cats just a day before her death. Law enforcement investigators stated that Radziwon-Chapman was likely in the process of cleaning the wild cat habitat when she was attacked and killed by the cougars.

The 36-year-old Portland area zookeeper had been working at the animal sanctuary for eight years and was killed by the cougars in November 2013. The lawsuit filed against WildCat Haven claims that the death of Renee Radziwon-Chapman was a direct result of her working alone in the animal enclosure and noted that she was required to do so despite voicing safety concerns.

The WildCat Haven lawsuit filed in Mutnomah County District Court, is seeking $6 million in wrongful death damages, intentional misconduct, employer’s liability law, ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activity, and for violations of the Oregon Safe Employment Act.

The Radziwon-Chapman estate lawsuit lists the beneficiaries of the estate as her baby girl, Noa Elise Chapman, her husband, Aaron Chapman, and her parents, Carol and John Radziwon. The WildCat Haven owners have not yet issued a comment on the wrongful death lawsuit.

“Tuller reassured her that she would not be left alone with the cats, which would be a violation of WildCat Haven’s protocols, both written and oral,” the lawsuit says. Safety protocols at the Portland animal sanctuary reportedly stated that two qualified workers must be inside an enclosure containing animals at all times when work is being completed.

Despite the safety rules, Renee Radziwon-Chapman was left alone with the cougars, according to the lawsuit. The legal document goes on to maintain that on November 9, both the sanctuary owners and another employee who typically worked with the head zookeeper were not present at WildCat Haven. The staffer and owners were reportedly working at a different location where the animal sanctuary would eventually be moving.

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The zoo lawsuit claims that Radziwon-Chapman was “intentionally instructed” by co-owner Michael Tuller, to work in the big cat cages alone. The Portland sanctuary allegedly failed to maintain proper locks on the cage doors and the gate into the enclosure.

Wildcat Haven reportedly agreed to pay $5,600 in penalties as a part of a settlement with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division. The state agency had determined that the animal sanctuary had violated the two-person safety rule and cited text messages sent by the zookeeper where her objections and fears were noted.

“The ‘light duty substandard gate latch’ was designed for easy operation in backyards, but it was ‘inappropriate for securing dangerous cougars,” the Oregon safety investigators stated when referencing the locks on smaller cages which held the cougars when work was completed inside the habitat. WildCat Haven staffer reportedly had to secure the “inadequate latches” by walking into the big cat enclosure and hooking a carabiner over each latch. “In doing so, they were exposed to cougars who were housed in a lockout that was not fully secured,” OSHA ruled.

WildCat Haven is a non-profit animal rescue that is closed to the public but offers tours to donors.
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[Image via KGW News Portland]