Eastern Cougar Declared Extinct

Courtesy of the USFWS

It’s official: The eastern cougar, that subspecies of the cat also known as puma, mountain lion, painter, and panther, is extinct, according to a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar,” said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species Martin Miller. “However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.”

Between 1900 and 2010, there were 108 claimed sightings of cougars in the East, the Christian Science Monitor reported, but they turned out to be released pets. The new document concludes that the eastern cougar should be removed from the endangered species list.

The FWS listed the subspecies nearly four decades ago, but experts suspect that it has been extinct in the region for much longer. A cougar trapped in Somerset County, Maine in 1938 may have been the last one to roam the northeast.

Yet genetic testing conducted in 2000 shows that there may not be a difference between eastern and western cougars after all. What’s more is that western populations are slowly moving east. A breeding pair now calls Nebraska home, said Mark McCollough, a Maine-based wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Still, when it comes to the eastern cougar as it’s currently classified, McCollough says, “It’s extinct.”

“But it’s not?” he was asked, according to an article in The New York Times.

“But it’s not,” he confirmed. “It may well return to part of its range.”

That's one way to let the cat out of the bag.

For more on cougars, check out these Audubon stories:

- "Safe Passage," November-December 2010
- Green Guru: Are there Cougars on the East Coast? November-December 2009
- "Going Catatonic," Incite, September-October 2004

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