The mother of a seven-year-old Vancouver Island boy who was the target of a cougar attack Friday afternoon displayed “incredible bravery”, according to Insp. Ben York.
York, the conservation officer in charge of the West Coast region, said the mother, who has been identified as Chelsea Bromley, heard a commotion in the family’s backyard on Point Ideal Drive in Lake Cowichan at about 3:30 p.m. on March 29.
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He said that when Chelsea saw her son Zachary being attacked and bitten by one of two cougars that came over the yard’s boundary fence, she immediately leapt into action, pried the cougar’s mouth open with her bare hands and “ripped” the cougar away from her son.
“Her actions likely saved her son from much further injury,” York said.
“We don’t recommend that people intercede in a cougar attack, but who would tell a mother that.”
Speaking at the Lake Cowichan Christian Fellowship Church on Sunday, Zachary’s father Kevin said his son’s rescue and survival was “a miracle”.
“Zack has some cuts and teeth marks, but there was no broken bones or anything else,” he said at the church in a video that was posted on Facebook.
“If it was one of our younger children, they probably would be dead. We’re grateful to the community that have been helping us get through this, and the fact that the ambulance was at our house within eight minutes.”
Chelsea said the attack was a “terrible experience” for her and her family.
“In that moment, I heard my child cry out and then my shoes were flying,” she said.
Zachary was taken to Cowichan District Hospital before being transferred to a hospital in Victoria.
He suffered minor injuries to his head, neck and an arm and was released from the hospital Saturday.
Chelsea suffered some minor wounds from the attack and is also recovering.
York said one of the cougars was shot and killed by conservation officers on site shortly after the attack, and the second cougar was shot dead after being tracked by officers.
He said there were reports of a third cougar, but after setting up traps and cameras and speaking to neighbours over the weekend, combined with the fact that there have been no cougar sightings since in that area, they are now highly confident that the two dead cougars were the only ones involved in the incident.
“We had a necropsy completed over the weekend and confirmed that both cats were approximately six months old and were extremely emaciated,” York said.
“They had very little in their stomachs so we’re supposing that they are siblings who have been without their mother for a period of weeks to months.”
York said only one of the cougars was involved in the attack, with the other one close by.
He said conservation officers shot both cats when they arrived because they were not 100 per cent sure which one was involved in the attack.
“As well, they were obviously a sibling pair who have been running and working together,” York said.
“If one was showing this behaviour, there’s a 99 per cent likelihood the other would too.”
York said there are frequent reports of cougar sightings in the Lake Cowichan area, but there were no specific reports of these two cats in the hours before the attack.
York said conservation officers are taking DNA samples from the cats to test against any DNA left on Zachary’s clothes and body to ensure they definitely got the right animal.
“We’ll also be leaving cameras in place in the area a while longer just to be sure,” he said.
The Cowichan Valley School District has brought in extra counsellors to Palsson Elementary School in Lake Cowichan, the school Zachary attends, to help the young students process and deal with the attack.
District spokesman Mike Russell said school principal Fiona Somerville also went to all the school’s classes on Monday to talk to students about the incident.
“The attack might be emotional and stressful for some of the students,” Russell said.
“It’s likely that few of them had ever dealt with a life and death situation involving one of their classmates before.”
York said the chance of seeing a cougar in the wild is slim, and when they are seen, they are usually just showing curiosity or running away from you.
But if one is showing too much interest in you or is showing aggression, it’s important that you make sure that the cat doesn’t see you as prey.
“If you run, you could trigger its predator instinct to chase you,” York said. “You should make yourself appear larger, talk to the cat in a stern voice and swing a stick or a rock around if you have one. If you have small children with you, pick them up and make sure pets are on a leash.”
York said all cougar sightings should be reported to local conservation officers.