From the jaws of death

Updated: 2012-03-16 09:01

By Wang Zhenghua in Shanghai (China Daily)

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He seems an unlikely hero, especially one that would save two children from the jaws of a wild cougar.

Standing barely 1.7 meters, the 22-year-old with black-frame glasses might pass more for a Chinese Harry Potter.

Yet Shen Huigang is just now getting recognition for his bravery in fighting off a cougar on Vancouver Island, Canada, during a family outing on Aug 30.

From the jaws of death

Shen Huigang, a junior university student. [Photo/China Daily]

Shen, also known as Ian, was then an exchange student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University enjoying the afternoon on a beach near Ucluelet, a small town on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

With him was a friend, Myles Hagar, and Hagar's two grandchildren.

Silently and suddenly a cougar appeared out of nowhere.

By the time the two adults spotted the cat, believed to be young but still weighing 30 to 35 kilograms, it already had the head of 18-month old Julien in its mouth.

"At first, my brain was nothing but blank," Shen recalled. "But I still had the belief I could get the child back."

Instinctively, the young man gestured as if he were ready for a fight, and tried to scare the beast off with the bag in his hands.

On hearing the noise Shen made, the animal dropped the toddler and Hagar lunged to grab his grandson from the cougar's jaws.

But the animal did not run, instead turning toward 3-year-old Iris, who was standing beside Shen.

"Had Ian not been there, shouting at the cougar, remaining calm in his face, standing firm, the cougar would certainly have attacked Iris while I was trying to take care of Julien. I could not have fought off the cougar alone, without Ian's help," Hagar recalled.

With Iris in his arms, Shen and Hagar gradually chased the animal back into the woods.

"We also moved slowly to our vehicle, as we waved our fists and bags, pretending we wanted to wrestle it," Shen said. "The vehicle wasn't far away but it felt like it took us a century to travel the short journey."

As Hagar drove for help, Shen held the heavily-bleeding boy in the passenger seat and calmly kept him awake to avoid the toddler going into a coma.

"I asked Ian to hug and kiss Julien in case he was dying, which Ian did without any flinching or qualms," Hagar said.

The boy was flown to a major hospital in nearby Vancouver that night.

Doctors later told the family that his little skull had been punctured through to his brain in two places.

"Any hesitation, at any moment, even a split second delay, would have resulted in certain death for Julien. The cougar was just about to break his neck and carry him away to be eaten in the forest, and then approached Iris to do the same to her, but Ian was there holding his ground and protecting her," Hagar said.

Julien has since made a full recovery.

Following the incident, the story appeared on Canadian TV networks in every major city, and in many small town newspapers across the country - plus some US Internet news sites.

But all reports identified the two adults as a "grandfather and a family friend" because the children's mother kept their names from the media to let the group recover from the attack and move on with their lives.

"The family members did everything right," Parks Canada spokeswoman Arlene Armstrong told the National Post newspaper of Canada in an interview in August. "There's no indication the family is at fault."

The two men acted properly by maintaining eye contact with the big cat and aggressively scaring it off, she added.

The Royal Canadian Humane Association planned to grant Shen a Canada Bravery Award, but it could not reach him because he had returned to China.

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