Mother fought off cougar to save toddler from attack

Conservation officers in Squamish, B.C., continue to hunt for two more cougars after a rash of attacks, including one in which a mother fought off an attack on her three-year-old girl who couldn't understand why the big kitty didn't want to "play nice."

2nd cougar shot by officials in Squamish B.C. this week

Conservation officers in Squamish, B.C., continue to hunt for two more cougars after a rash of attacks, including one in which  a mother fought off an attack on her daughter, 3, who couldn't understand why the big kitty didn't want to "play nice."

Conservation officers used dogs to track a cougar through several yards before finally shooting it around 10 p.m. PT Tuesday night. ((CBC))

Five conservation officers aided by two dogs and their handlers eventually tracked the cat through several yards and eventually shot it just off Depot Road in the Brackendale neighbourhood, about 60 kilometres north of Vancouver, four hours after the attack Tuesday evening.

DNA samples taken from the cougar will be used to determine whether it was the one that attacked the child, they said.

The cougar is the second killed by conservation officers since Saturday. The other was shot after two dogs were attacked on a popular hiking trail on Friday and Saturday.

Mother fought off big cat

In the attack on Tuesday, the cougar pounced on Maya Espinosa from behind as she and her mother were walking their dog and picking berries in Fisherman's Park near the Squamish River.

Maureen Lee told CBC News she was turning away to pick a berry when she thought she saw another dog approaching out of the corner of her eye, but it was the cougar coming to attack her daughter, Maya.

"All of a sudden it just flew on her, rolled her a couple of times and grabbed her under its belly on the ground like in the fetal position," Lee recalled.

"She [Maya] was on her back and he had his paws in her head, and I just knew I had to react quick, so I just jumped in there and wedged myself between the cougar and her on the ground, and I just got up and threw it off my back and grabbed her and booked it," she said.

Three-year-old Maya Espinosa was resting at home with her mother Maureen Lee and father Pablo Espinosa Wednesday morning following the cougar attack. ((CBC))

The toddler suffered puncture wounds to her left arm and head, but was recovering well, her mother said.

Neighbour Wade Rowland said it appeared the young girl didn't entirely understand what had happened.

"Everyone's taking it well, they're in good spirits," he said. "The little girl, her big comment was, I guess, 'Why didn't the kitty play nice?' "

Pablo Espinosa, Maya's father, told CBC News his daughter thought the cat was playing. She was eager to return to kindergarten to tell her classmate what happened, Lee said.

Rash of cougar encounters reported

Following the second shooting, eight conservation officers were using dogs to track down at least two other cougars suspected to be in the area, on Wednesday morning. A total of 30 encounters with cougars were reported in the past 10 day, including six on Friday alone, they said.

A hiker posted this video on YouTube of a cougar that attacked a dog on a the Stawamus Chief trail near Squamish on the weekend. ((YouTube))

The unusually aggressive behaviour could have been caused by at least two factors, conservation officers suspected. The first cougar shot on Saturday was likely hungry, they concluded, because of its emaciated condition. The second cougar shot on Tuesday, however, was healthy and young, and may have just been learning to hunt, they said.

Squamish RCMP Cpl. Dave Ritchie said Maya was fortunate to escape the attack without serious injuries, adding people need to watch out for cougars right now.

"She's very lucky. Hopefully she'll be surviving and not be too traumatized by it, but it would be a traumatic event for parents and a young child."