A calm Friday afternoon turned hectic last week for 7-year-old Zach Bromley, who was attacked by a mountain lion in his backyard. Chelsea Lockhart, the boy’s mother, was inside their Vancouver Island home when she heard the commotion of the cougar trying to break through their fence.
“In that moment he knew he was in danger, so he started taking off down this alleyway to get to the house,” Lockhart said in an interview with CTV News. “It pushed its way through, and you can see the scratch marks on the pole.”
Lockhart ran for the backyard to deter the attack. She was met with a horrifying scene.
“He was on the ground and the cougar was over him.”
The young male lion had Bromley by the arm and was dragging him towards the fence. Lockhart sprang into action and fish-hooked the cougar’s mouth, trying to pry its jaw open.
“I had a mom instinct, right? I looked at him and I just thought, ‘Oh my god, my kid could die right before my eyes.’ All you think is what can you do? What can you do in your own physical strength?”
After a short struggle and “crying out to the Lord,” Lockhart willed the lion to release its grip. She believes the cougar didn’t give up because of her strength, but rather that it was startled by her screams. Lockhart also credits her son’s baggy sweatshirt, which never allowed the cougar to get a good grip, for saving his life.
Her son was airlifted to a local hospital, where doctors treated Bromley for a 1.5-inch gash in his head and scratches to his arms and neck. He’ll make a quick recovery, but his parents are concerned about the trauma of the encounter.
“If it had been a bigger cougar, it would have been over,” said Kevin Bromley, the boy’s father, in an interview with Global News. “He’s figured out that was pretty close to near-death. He’s old enough to grasp that. And that’s a big pill to swallow, just to digest that mentally. I think today it’s starting to sink in for him what happened. We’re just trying to focus on him and make sure this doesn’t impact him mentally.”
Following the attack, wildlife officials descended on the area with hopes of finding the lion. They found two young male lions, one that wardens suspect was the cougar involved in the skirmish, as well as a sibling. Both were killed within 20 yards of the house.
“From the first look, they’re quite thin,” said Sgt. Scott Norris, of the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, in an interview with CTV News. “They’re young cats, not looking like they’re doing very well. Cats that are not very well fed are usually the ones who are going to take chances and do things they shouldn’t be doing.”
Necropsies later confirmed that the lions were starving. Experts believe the two had been separated from their mother for a few months, leading the orphans to get more desperate and opportunistic.
It’s a familiar story, and one that’s been told multiple times over the last 12 months. In May, a mountain biker in Washington was killed by a lion. In September, a hiker in Oregon was killed by a lion. In December, a toddler in British Columbia was bitten by a lion. In February, a jogger in Colorado flipped the script and killed a cat that attacked him.
Still, human conflicts with pumas are uncommon. According to British Columbia statistics, only eight people have been killed and 94 have been injured by cougars in the province since 1900. The 7 year old’s parents are aware of the rarity, and said they won’t let the emergency room visit deter them from letting their kids continue to enjoy the outdoors.
“If the kids see us parents being apprehensive and being fearful, then they can imitate that behavior,” Lockhart said. “So I’m just constantly reassuring them that the conservation officers dealt with the cougars, and talking to them about normal cougar behavior and how this is a very odd circumstance.”
Feature image of mountain lion on Vancouver Island via CTV News.