There’s little governmental oversight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, licenses facilities that exhibit animals — whether domestic or wild — or do research. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tracks endangered species when they are bought and sold across state or U.S. borders and issues permits to facilities moving animals across state lines.
But neither agency keeps a tally on facilities or the total number of wild animals that are housed.
And no one sets rules for how sanctuaries operate.
As a result, safety procedures meant to protect staff and animals vary. Most sanctuaries develop their own protocols. The two certifying associations require safety standards, but in most cases don’t define specific rules.
WildCat Haven, the Sherwood, Ore., sanctuary where the head keeper was killed on Nov. 9, was “verified” by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Verification means the sanctuary satisfied 60 different standards, including safety.
The organization recommends “redundancy” when it comes to safety, its executive director Patty Finch said, meaning two lockout doors or two staff members present. “It won’t eliminate the risk factor, but can certainly reduce it,” Finch said.
Still, she said, risk is inherent in the job. “You can have the best protocols in the world and something can still go wrong.”
WildCat Haven has good safety rules in place, Finch said.
Its safety manual specifies that a staff member can enter the main enclosure to clean or make repairs only after the animals are locked away in a smaller cage. Two people must be present when animals are locked up. And a caretaker can’t be alone with an animal in the same space.
Sanctuary officials said Radziwon-Chapman apparently broke those rules: she worked alone, locked only one of three cougars in the smaller cage, and went into the main enclosure with the other two cougars.