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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Filed under: Animals
soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. Gordon Skead

    Nice to see a picture of Bruce Wright who studied among many other species the Eastern Cougar. He also did extensive work with the Black Duck and White Tailed Deer. My father worked with Bruce on many projects with the Northeast Wildlife Station and the University of New Brunswick. My love of the outdoors came from my dad and his association with Bruce. Bruce as his commander of the "THE FROGMEN OF BURMA" – Ae Sea Reconnaissance Unit featured as
    the "true story of the first frogman unit formed by the Allies in World War II, related by the Canadian naval officer who raised and commanded the Unit from its training period in California to its successful employment in Burma."

    March 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MUNKEYFARTS

    They said the same thing about the black footed ferret

    March 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ron Jeremy

    way to go humans. Mounting and stuffing the last of that species. way to go.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Steve

    That's a lie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I'm a 24 year old guy and got hit on by some 49 year old woman in New York last week !!!!

    March 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Notacougar

      Poor baby.

      March 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lance corporal

    i bagged a couple of cougars at an eastern bar just last night

    March 2, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DB-Houston

    What, did Joan Rivers die?

    March 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. moneymoney

    I bagged, mounted and stuffed a cougar 2 weeks ago in Mahattan lounge:)

    March 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    me and my father saw a large cat of that size in the early 90's in salem co. nj, but it appeared darker as we were driving almost black, distance was maybe 100 yards max, near the edge of a farm field 5-6 am . no question of it being a large cat and we were both dumbfounded as even a bear in north jersey is getting rarer. size of a cougar but looked like a panther due to the color at that distance. -you just might be wrong about it being gone entirely

    March 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JAMES

    sERIOUSLY, the guy that killed the last cougar should be mounted along side that poor unfortunate animal.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      GO get a shovel and dig him up. The picture WAS taken in 1938.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ken

    It's just the beginning. 30% of the worlds species face extinction within the next 50 years court. sy of man's mucking up the planet. God made humans stewards of this Earth and we have completely blown it.

    March 2, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • arizonan44

      and what percent of wildlife have became extinct before man existed.

      March 2, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. viablanca

    I was on a business trip tp Baltimore and met a different kind of eastern cougar

    March 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Aaron

    Oh No!!!!!! Save the animals...who cares about people?!!

    March 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • TD7777

      Personally, I couldnt care less about "people". The human population is out of control on this planet and I would definitely trade 1 million human lives for one cougar life. The planet would be better off. I cant wait for all the clever and witty comments.

      March 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Esteban

    In the grand scheme of things, this is irrelevant. A subspecies that looks and acts just like every other of its kind is no big loss. Same thing for all the western field mice. It really doesn't matter if we kill them all in a local area, there are still little brown mice everywhere.

    That being said, private conservation is the way to go if you care about these things. It really isn't the governments job.

    Esteban

    March 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • AK Sean

      I totally disagree with you Esteban. It is plurality in nature that helps to establish balance and when a species like field mice are removed there is a ripple effect that touches the entire ecosystem (and that includes us). While I don't believe that it is solely the government's job to protect this balance, it is within the government's mandate to protect the environment and its overall impact on the citizenry and our ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

      March 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Truthwillsetyoufree

    Now its time to go after the hunters who killed them....

    March 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      They'll be easy to catch! Just bring a shovel and be ready to dig deep.
      About 6 feet or so.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bemused

    Fortunately, cougars do not respect borders. There's still plenty in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia

    March 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
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