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Special Report filed by AAF Correspondent: Brian R.
from The Globe and Mail


Cougar attacks girl near Vancouver Island

Canadian Press
Tuesday, June 25 – Online Edition, Posted at 1:47 AM EST

Port McNeill, BC — An eight-year-old U.S. girl was recovering Monday after being attacked and bitten by a cougar off northern Vancouver Island.

The attack occurred Sunday on Compton Island, a tiny island about 24 kilometres east of Port McNeill and about 350 kilometres northwest of Victoria.

Rita Hilsabeck of Reno, Nev., was on a kayaking trip with her parents and five other people when the cougar pounced on her just after the group had returned from a pre-dinner paddle on the first day of a six-day tour.

"It was odd, really, there were people all around her when it happened," her father, Chuck, 52, said Monday at Port McNeill and District Hospital.

"She's got a lot of stitches and she's got soreness, but she's very tough and resilient and she's going to be okay."

Rita's most serious wounds are deep gashes around her neck, where the cougar grabbed her, he said. She also had to have some stitches on her arm and lower back.

Three members of the group remained on Compton Island after the incident, along with Jason Doucet, a guide with Northern Lights Expeditions of Bellingham, Wash.

"Rita was just near the kayaks and cougar came up and just picked her up on the beach and started dragging her up towards the woods," Mr. Doucet said.

The others raised enough of a commotion to startle the big cat into dropping the child.

But the cougar, a large male weighing about 30 kilograms, moved only a short distance away and found a perch a few metres up a spruce tree in the middle of the camp area.

Mr. Doucet said the animal was still in the tree when it was shot. It managed to move a few steps and then died in the middle of the camp's makeshift kitchen area.

Conservation officer Greg Kruger said the animal appeared healthy, but will be tested for rabies and several other conditions.

It was instinct that led the animal to linger in a tree after being scared away from the person it had set upon, he said. "Once they're startled that's a natural defence mechanism, they go up a tree."

Just seconds before the attack, Charles Eisner, 11, of Tucson, Az., and Rita had been playing together on the beach.

They found a crab and were trying to decide what to name it "and then 30 seconds later, she was grabbed by the cougar," he said.

The attack was quick, he said. "It was way too fast."

He mother, Barbara Atwood, said the experience was horrifying.

"It happened so quickly, it was very hard to register in a circumstance like that," she said.

Ms. Atwood said her family plans to continue with the six-day kayak trip.

The attack was "very scary but we know it's very rare and extremely unlikely anything else would happen like this," she said.

A wildlife official said Monday it is rare for a cougar to attack a human.

Cougars have killed 11 people in British Columbia, 10 of them children, since 1900.

Most cougar attacks occur on Vancouver Island, which has the highest concentration of British Columbia's cougars. There have been 15 cougar attacks on Vancouver Island since 1970, including three deaths.

The last fatal attack occurred in August, 1996, when a 36-year-old woman died near Princeton, about 200 kilometres east of Vancouver, while fighting off a cougar that mauled her son.

Cindy Parolin, an experienced outdoorswoman, was killed by the 27-kilogram cougar when she rushed to defend her six-year-old son Steven. He was attacked by the big cat after it spooked his horse and he fell off.

Ms. Parolin, 36, went at the cougar with a stick and it turned on her, allowing two of her other children to carry Steven away and get help. The family had just started a horseback camping trip when the attack occurred.

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved

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