Cougar tracked, killed after attack on six-year-old girl

A 36-kilogram cougar that had been tracked by provincial authorities for weeks has been put down in Kananaskis Country after it lunged at a six-year-old girl hiking with her family.

[Wednesday, August 3, 2011 – By Justin Brisbane and Jamie Komarnicki, For The Calgary Herald] — The attack is the first time a child has been jumped by a cougar in K-Country, provincial authorities say.

On Sunday, the Canmore girl was walking along the shoreline trail by the Barrier Lake boat launch with her nine-year-old brother and parents when the cougar pounced.

Her father, who was walking in front of his daughter, jumped to her rescue. He screamed at the cougar and threw his water bottle at the big cat.

The cougar took off into the bush, leaving the girl with a few scratches.

The family of four quickly left the day use area and returned home.

“It was over in a matter of seconds,” said district conservation officer Glenn Naylor.

The girl suffered minor cuts and puncture wounds.

The family didn’t report the incident. Conservation officers found out about the attack on Monday.

The area was shut down and evacuated while conservation officers investigated.

Conservation officers used dogs to tracked the animal. A 15-minute chase ended when the cougar was shot.

The cougar was one of a pair of big cats that had been collared in Banff National Park earlier this year, said Dave Ealey of Sustainable Resource Development.

The animal’s sister was put down July 19 by conservation officers near the Canmore Nordic Centre after she attacked an off-leash dog, said Naylor.

A necropsy is scheduled for the cougar involved in Sunday’s attack.

“They’ll be assessing the condition of it to see if there’s any indication of why it (the attack) might have happened,” said Ealey.

Volunteers and provincial officials had been tracking the animal for weeks, and Naylor said the cougar had not shown any worrisome behaviour. Earlier this summer, however, the cougar reportedly showed habituated behaviour, meaning it was no longer afraid of humans.

Most cougar attacks on people are attributed to young cats under the age of two. Most of those attacks are on children, Naylor said. He suspects the mother of the two deceased juveniles had been killed, and the young cats didn’t learn how to survive.

“Anything that moved, it could have attacked,” he said.

The officers had no choice but to destroy the cougar, Naylor said.

“History dictates if a young cat attacks a human once, it will do it again,” Naylor said.

The outcome could have been disastrous.

“This cat was not a good hunter. If it was an adult cougar, it could have been worse,” he said.

The last cougar attack in the Bow Valley was reported in 2001.

Last week, Brooks RCMP issued a warning after one of the big cats was spotted in the community 190 kilometres east of Calgary. Residents were asked to keep a close eye on pets and kids.

Conservation officers say cougar attacks are rare.

Albertans should take several steps, however, to prevent possible attacks, authorities say.

These including staying calm, immediately picking up children and trying to look as large as possible.

If confronted by a cougar, keep the animal in front of you. If it attacks, fight back and convince the cougar you are a threat.

*** Justin Brisbane is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain Outlook

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