Eastern cougar declared extinct, confirming decades of suspicion
The last eastern puma, seen here with biologist Bruce Wright, was trapped and mounted in Somerset County, Maine, in 1938.
March 2nd, 2011
04:10 PM ET

Eastern cougar declared extinct, confirming decades of suspicion

The eastern cougar has been declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, confirming decades of suspicion that the elusive subspecies was no more.

The large, solitary predatory cat once lived in every Eastern U.S. state in a variety of habitats, including coastal marshes, mountains and forests, said Dr. Mark McCollough, the agency's lead scientist for the eastern cougar. But you've probably never seen an eastern cougar - the last confirmed identification was in 1938 in Maine.

Other subspecies of the cougar, also known commonly as mountain lions, wildcats, panthers and pumas, still exist in the United States, including the Florida panther.

Scientists have held out hope, based on scattered reports, that a few eastern cougars remained. Those sightings turned out to be other subspecies from the Western United States - where the cougar population is growing and expanding its range eastward - or captive animals that were freed or escaped.

"We still have cougars and mountain lions in the United States that look identical to what we had in eastern North America, and that's probably what people are still seeing," McCollough said. "But the scientific and historical evidence point to the conclusion that the eastern cougar subspecies has not existed for a while."

It typically takes the agency a long time - and a lot of field work - to officially declare an animal extinct. People often confuse cougars with white-tailed deer, bobcats, even yellow labs, said Martin Miller, the service's Northeast Region chief of endangered species.

But near the sites of reported spottings, scientists have been unable to find the physical marks commonly associated with cougars in the wild, such as scratching posts and cached animal remains.

"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."

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soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. eymnobody

    Sure it's extinct!... and if it isn't, the status 'extinct' serves everybody!

    Wildlife advocates can cry and rave about species loss! Donate more!.. meanwhile developers and more who may have been hampered by those pesky cats persisting on some mountain where maybe there's coal or a good spot for a driving range are rejoicing.. More for everybody! More tragedy, more profits .. MORE.
    Nature lovers rely on agencies like the USFWS and laws like the Endangered Species act to carry the torch... Others that don't give a hoot (that's funny actually) about Nature complain about government interference in business and profits.. and the government serves both masters.. except that the outcome is always the same.. Loss of species, loss of habitat, loss of diversity..

    I'm not the only person who can see this? .. ergo I declare the wildlife and nature advocacy organizations are the real scam artists.. they know what's going on, but continue to play the game.. for fun and profit!

    I have much more to say.. I'll spare you from it.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • geckopelli

      Thank you for sparing us.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alex

    just take a western cougar and put him the east. Problem solved

    March 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Terry Miller

    I have personally seen a Cougar in North Carolina. I was within 50 feet of it and it was not a white tailed deer! Of course I could answer the question of whether it is a sub species or not. The National Park Service said no official sighting of any cougar exist in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I wish they had been with me so they could quit using that remark.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark W

      I had a similar experience in Shenandoah NP in 1987. Came across a cougar laying across the Appalachian Trail enjoying what was left of a rabbit. I reported it to the ranger, and he pulled out a set of pictures of different types of big cats to verify what I saw. He also told me that there were no official sightings in the area, but did say that I wasn't the only person to report an unofficial sighting. Pretty cool to see something like that in the wild, though.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Death Panel Sarah

      You had no camera or cell phone?

      March 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      According to the USFWS as of 2007, it is improbable that a small cougar population persisted in the eastern states for over a century. Most of the confirmed cougar records since 1950 (animals killed, good quality photos/videos, genetic evidence) are known to be escapes of captive origin.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carrie

      I also saw a cougar in North Carolina. It jumped across the road right in front of my car in Pamlico County (near Terra Ceia?). My husband and I both saw it clearly about 30 feet from our car. This is in eastern NC, and it was about 7 years ago. We called several museums in NC to ask if this was a common sighting in the area and were told we must be mistaken.

      March 2, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    Only sure way to tell if the eastern cougar is gone is by genetic testing of the stuffed ones and the ones living in the east today.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. cp

    "We still have cougars and mountain lions in the United States that look identical to what we had in eastern North America, and that's probably what people are still seeing," McCollough said.

    So, if they look identical and they are moving back into the area, why are we calling the cougar extinct in the east? Seems like a silly waste of time to even be worried about it. I wonder how many taxpayer dollars were wasted on this? People need to stop staring at the trees so they can see the forest!

    March 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff White

      It was a different type of cougar, they were not the same. Many you rednecks and urban yuppies are about the most dumb people on the planet..god help us.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Urban redneck

      Sorry jeffy white, we dumb ole rednecks and us yuppy stuck up urbanites sure dont no nothin bout nature and dem sciences. I sorry for bein so stoopid. But I reckon you're so smart since you grammar is so good!

      Many of** you rednecks and urban yuppies are about the dumbest** people on the planet..G**od help us.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chrissy

    I saw one on a number of occassions in the White Mountains of NH in my teens. Very rare though, and more often I just found tracks rather than cougars. By this time (25 years later), there probably isn't a viable number to maintain population, and they are probably extint or nearly so. -but I don't believe the idea that they died out in 1938. The tracks and sightings were definitely not little bobcats or golden retrievers/labs (haha!). Now I'm in Florida, and the panthers here are also few and far between, and not the same critter. They are quite a bit smaller than the cats we saw up north. What a shame they are gone. But alas, we have crept into all of their territories and they had nowhere to go.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      They had two places to go. Into the history books and into the hall of shame.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kuwahara

    is Nancy Grace a Cougar?

    March 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • pazke

      Well, unfortunately, she is not extinct.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Charlie Chocks

    How cute. That white tailed deer is eating our chickens.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • pazke


      March 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kozlany

      Darn deer dragged off a goat too.

      We have had more than few sightings in the White Mountains of NH.
      Problem is if they powers that be admit they are still here they will have to allocate funds to help protect them. Isn't going to happen. Fish and game would rather check snowmobile registrations and fishing licenses. Try to get them to help with nuisance wildlife. You get silly useless bable or are told to shoot it.

      March 3, 2011 at 4:35 am | Report abuse |
  9. Langor

    "People often confuse cougars with white-tailed deer... said Martin Miller". You seriously need some remedial animal identification training if you are confusing a cougar with a deer.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ted linguini

    All jokes aside...NOT TRUE... as an avid mountain biker in central PA, I have SEEN these cats and find their prints often. They are still here and very rare, but if you go into remote areas, they are there.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Are you sure its the Eastern cougar and not a mountain lion? They look a lot a like.

      March 2, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linney17

      I think the issue is that you are seeing a different subspecies or a different cat altogether. The DNA is different. So, unless you've asked the cougars you've seen for a blood sample, you aren't seeing the cougars the article is talking about.

      March 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Notacougar

      @Linney17 – Yes, but what if the cougar decides to check *your* DNA?

      March 2, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • ted linguini

      I'll grant u that. It may well have been a relocated cat.

      March 2, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Pennsylvania Game Commission has been working on a recovery plan since 1982, but found nothing to recover.
      Hence, they're considered extinct, as no other state could find even a single one. Only other species.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. That Guy

    I don't wanna be "that guy", but there's lots of cougars at your local pub or club. You can find some nice ones at the gym , grocery store or higher end bars.

    March 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. George Orwell

    Hey good job everyone! keep up the good work!!! Now let's make sure we
    knock off the polar beer population and all the whales next! Personally
    I think we ought to get on those domestic dogs and cats too...I have allergies!
    Seriously, we should do the world a favor and get Armageddon over with so this
    wonderful and beautiful planet that sustains us can shake off this disease called

    March 2, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      What exactly is a Polar Beer. Is that Beer that is really, really cold?

      March 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beer-guy

      Oddly enough there is a "Polar" beer. look it up

      March 2, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      You do know extinction is as natural as getting wet when it rains, right? If the dinosaurs hadn't done it, things might really reek now.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Death Panel Sarah

      I drank a six pack of polar beer last week. I hope I didn't 'kill' them all!!!

      March 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. George Orwell

    ps: obviously polar beer should be bear ...typo. But then
    again...i love beer too.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cindy

    Saw a real cougar twice in Northeastern PA on our property. Both times from close close range. Not bobcat. Cougar. Also found claw marks on the tree it ran up (dead big fallen tree). Called Fish and Wildlife. They said not a real cougar, must have been someone's pet cougar that must have gotten loose!

    Also saw one eating a deer along AC Expressway late one night. Guess they really don't exist

    March 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      same thing here in Missouri, fish and game said no cougars for years. People saw them all the time. finally some one shot one and another was hit by car.one fellow had them eating his sheep. then fish and game said Oh they must have migrated in.I saw one in 1977 on Black river.seems the officials like to act like ostriches.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gary

    That's funny I have seen multiple recent photographs of tracks, and the actual cats themselves, in driveways near Ithaca and Corning NY...which are both centrally located in NY state near the finger lakes region.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
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