Without the help of her quick thinking sister, Mykaela Belter might not have walked away from a cougar attack with little more than a couple of scratches on her back.
The outcome could well have been worse — much worse — for the 16-year-old Bellerose High student who was hiking with her sister Gabrielle and family in Waterton Lakes National Park Monday when the mountain lion sprang out of some bushes and dug its claws into her side.
“At first, I was thinking how is that even possible, because that never happens,” 19-year-old Gabrielle said later this week. “And then it looked like it was trying to pull her into the bushes so I ran up and grabbed her arm and started screaming because I didn’t know what else to do.”
Luckily, her actions convinced the 90 lb. cat to back off.
Mykaela says she had never seen a wild cougar before in her life. She was hiking back to the townsite on the trail near Bertha Falls that day with her father and brother walking some distance behind the two sisters.
When they passed through some brush. Mykaela heard something rustle beside her, she says.
She turned to look and that’s when the cougar leapt at her. The cat grabbed her left side — digging its claws into her thigh and lower back — and started pulling her into the bushes.
“I looked at the cougar and I was thinking holy crap, that’s a cougar. And then my next thought was it’s smaller than I thought it would be,” she says. “And then after that I was just thinking about all the people who got mauled by cougars. It all happened so fast.”
Mykaela says she stumbled, but did not fall. Almost instantly, Gabrielle was by her side, pulling her arm. Together, they began screaming at the cat.
The sisters believe their noise must have scared the cougar because Mykaela was able to twist out of the way when her sister grabbed her, and the cat let go.
By then, their father had also started running towards the animal, which retreated back into the brush.
“I thought it ran away but it turns out it only went further into the brush, growling at other people and eyeballing them,” Mikaela says, adding that another couple of hikers later scared the cougar away with their walking sticks.
“But apparently it came back after we were all gone because they found the cougar in the same place where it attacked me and then they killed it there.”
The cat was destroyed by park personnel on Tuesday. Park officials have sent the cougar’s corpse for tests, to try and determine why the cat was preying on people and not avoiding them.
Mykaela says she had to get a few stitches in her lower back and get the wounds on her upper thigh cleaned up after the attack. Otherwise she remained unharmed.
The cougar punctured her in six places with its claws. But that didn’t hinder her from continuing her vacation for the rest of the week, she says.
Now back in St. Albert, she plans to continue her hiking trips to Waterton Park. Only this time, she’ll take a walking stick, she says.
Her sister is a little more cautious.
“I guess I’m a little more worried but I still enjoy hiking,” Gabrielle says. “That was a freak occurrence. Something like this doesn’t usually happen.”
Parks Canada warns that cougars can present a potential risk to people and pets. Hikers should never leave their children unattended and travel in groups of three or more. Free roaming pets may also attract the attention of the animals, as well as pet food and garbage. The animals are most active at dusk and dawn.
If you see a cougar, do not approach the animal. Face the animal and retreat slowly without running or playing dead. Try to appear bigger and aggressive by shouting, waving or throwing rocks to deter an attack. Small children should be picked up.