A Blackfoot family says angels were protecting their little girl when a mountain lion picked her up and dragged her several feet during a camping trip in East Idaho Friday night.
Israel and Kera Butt were enjoying a reunion with their three children and extended family near Green Canyon Hot Springs east of Rexburg when the attack happened.
“As we were eating dinner, I turned my head and saw the back part of the cat,” Kera Butt said. “I saw it move and I told everyone, ‘I just saw a cat.’”
Several family members didn’t believe Kera and thought she may have seen a wolf or other wild animal.
“We were kind of teasing her a little bit and saying there’s no way she saw a cat,” Israel Butt recalls. “We walked over to where she thought she saw it and nothing was there so we went back to eating dinner.”
After supper, around 9 p.m., Kera says several of the children decided to go play at a nearby creek.
Israel and Kera’s 4-year-old daughter Kelsi was on the way with her 10-year-old cousin, who was holding another 2-year-old cousin.
“As they were walking, the 10-year-old cousin screamed, ‘I see it,’” Kera says. “I knew she saw the mountain lion but I didn’t know it was attacking Kelsi.”
An adult relative with the group, also saw the mountain lion and realized it was holding onto Kelsi. The relative and Kera both ran toward the cougar screaming.
“The cat bit Kelsi on the side and tried to pick her up and drag her a little bit,” Kera says. “It didn’t have a good hold so it put its paws on her to get a better grip.”
As the adults approached the mountain lion, the cat dropped Kelsi and ran away.
The sobbing 4-year-old told her mother “she hurt everywhere” and Kera began inspecting Kelsi’s body for injuries.
There were scratches along with bite and claw marks on Kelsi’s back, leg, upper thigh and arm.
Despite the injuries, Kera says she knew everything was going be OK.
“I had this overwhelming feeling that she was fine,” Kera says. “I just had this comfort that she was okay and I felt like angels were there protecting her.”
The Butts took Kelsi to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls where she was given antibiotics and a rabies shot.
Meanwhile, officers with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game were called and deputies with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office responded to the campsite as Kelsi’s grandfather stood guard with a shotgun.
“At one point, he said the hairs stood up on the back of his head and he looked to the left and saw the cat prowling 20 to 30 feet away,” Israel Butt says.
Around 2 a.m. Saturday, the young male mountain lion was forced up a tree by dogs a few hundred yards from the camp, according to Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Gregg Losinski. Madison County sheriff's deputies shot and killed the cat.
Cougar sightings, let alone attacks, are relatively rare in Idaho and no one has been killed by a mountain lion in recent memory, Losinski said.
“When lions do attack, records indicate that small children are often the targets,” Losinski says. “This family showed how vigilance and quick thinking can help avert a tragedy.”
After being treated at the hospital, Kelsi and her family returned to the campsite to finish their reunion.
Kelsi is expected to make a full recovery and insisted she attend church Sunday to show her friends “her battle wounds.”
The Butt’s know the situation could have ended differently and are thankful their daughter survived this scary encounter.
“The reason we are so calm is because we still have her and we are grateful,” Kera says. “She was protected and the reason we’re not freaking out is because she’s still here with us.”