Eastern cougar declared extinct by US government

Eastern cougar: The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar to be extinct, saying occasional sightings were not the extinct ghost cat.

State Museum of Pennsylvania/AP/File
Eastern cougar declared extinct: The taxidermy of the eastern cougar said to have been the last cougar killed in Pennsylvania in 1874. The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar to be extinct, Wednesday, confirming a widely held belief among wildlife biologists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man a century ago.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar to be officially extinct, Wednesday.

The cougar is also known to many as the catamount, ghost cat, mountain cat, mountain lion, panther, or puma. The eastern cougar has been thought by many to differ from its western counterpart in its tawny color and longer tail.

The 100-pound cat was hunted feverishly between the 1700s and 1800s, but could still be seen until the 1930s. By then the population had been so decimated in the 21 eastern states in which it lived, that no further sightings were recorded.

It has now been more than 70 years since the last confirmed sighting and though the cat had been put on the endangered species list in 1973, the US Fish and Wildlife Service held off on declaring it extinct until now.

One reason for the delay has been the 108 claimed sightings of eastern cougars between 1900 and 2010. None of the sightings in the past 70 years have been proven to be eastern cougars, and many have turned out to be western cougars or black panthers. The latter, not known to be indigenous to North America, are believed to be exotic house pets that had been let loose.

Large cats that have been reported have often been described to have the yellowish or gray color of western cougars. The western cougar, which typically resides in Florida and the West, may even be making its way eastward as territory has opened up.

The Fish and Wildlife Service began a review of the eastern cougar's status in 2007. Based on a review of videos from thousands of trail cameras, road kill reports, and other evidence, Martin Miller, the endangered species chief for the northeast said, "We have high confidence that the eastern cougar is extinct."

"We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar," Miller said. "However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar."

Though the eastern cougar may be gone, many are hoping that western cougars will eventually migrate east and repopulate the region. Patrick McMillan, a professor at Clemson University, believes western cougars are sure to migrate from Florida or the West to states like South Carolina, saying, “I think it is inevitable that we will have cougars as a resident species in the Carolinas."

If you think the eastern cougar is still fighting to hold on as a species, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is giving the public the chance to comment or disagree with the bureau's conclusions.

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