SQUAMISH, B.C. – A three-year girl is recovering after being attacked by a cougar near her Squamish, B.C., home as her mom relives the terror of locking eyes with the beast she pushed off her bleeding daughter.
Maureen Espinosa said she was picking berries in the woods at about 7 p.m. Tuesday when she heard a sound and saw the big cat pounce on her little girl.
“He rolled her a couple of times and had her underneath him in kind of a fetal position on her back,” Espinosa said of the cougar that had Maya’s head in his paws.
“I knew I had to act fast and I just dove in between them and put my body on her and then I kind of stood up and used my body weight to push him off of me and just grabbed her and ran as fast and loud as I possibly could.”
She said neighbours heard her screams and one of them drove her and Maya to hospital, where she was treated for puncture wounds to her head and arms.
“I don’t think the fear and panic sunk in until I had her in my arms and I was running with her,” Espinosa said.
“That’s when I was scared because the cougar was right behind us,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to jump on us and I still wasn’t sure if we were safe. That part was really scary and I didn’t know how hurt she was so I was really scared because there was a lot of blood.”
Espinosa said Maya was sore, tired and a bit cranky while she recovered from her ordeal at home.
“I just feel really blessed and really grateful and really lucky,” said Espinosa, who spent a restless night reliving the attack.
“I had a real weird sort of connection with the cougar too because there was a moment of eye contact and there was a long moment of physical contact because it was on my back and shoulders and arms and I had to pry him off and push him off.”
“During that time I had the sense that this creature was not a bad cat. It was just hunting. We were just unfortunately the prey it was hunting.”
Conservation officers tracked a male cougar and shot it late Tuesday night.
A necropsy is planned and DNA samples will be taken to confirm it was the cat involved and also to help determine why the attack occurred.
RCMP Cpl. Dave Ritchie said people should be prepared if they’re using trails around the Howe Sound area.
“If conservation officers consider there’s a real danger they put up signs close to the trail so we’re encouraging people that if there is a trail closed, it is for a reason,” he said.
Conservation officer Chris Doyle said the male cougar believed to have attacked the little girl is about a year-and-a-half old.
He said there have been significantly more cougar sightings this year than last, prompting the Environment Ministry to issue a warning to hikers, mountain bikers and schools.
“We made some recommendations that children not be allowed in the back part of schools where there would be a bushy areas where there could potentially be a cougar,” Doyle said.
It’s possible that more cougars are in the area because their natural prey, including deer and beavers, may have moved to higher ground because of a long stretch of warm weather, he said.
Conservation officers with two teams of eight dogs were continuing to search the area Wednesday for signs of any more cougars.
People who encounter a cougar should never turn and run because that triggers an instinctive attack, Doyle said.
“You can make noise, you can pick up a rock or a stick if it approaches you, pick up small children and pets and just try and back away from the situation.”