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. just me

    You beat me to it! I was going to mention sightings of the "catamount" in Vermont

    March 2, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mountain Man

    They were declared extinct years ago, its not as if this is a new thing.

    The fact remains these cats still exist in the south/eastern part of the United States. If they are declared extinct, great...maybe people wont be out there looking for the few remaining ones and attempt to truly eradicate them. But they do still exist, whether some fancy PHD says the opposite or not.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cpc65

    " the last confirmed identification was in 1938 in Maine." – It took them that long to figure it out? They might want to add the woolly mammoth and saber tooth tiger to the list while they're at it.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mark

    We have a large population of cougars in southern Maine. Everyone in the family was woken up by the roar of a particularly large cougar chasing my cat around the house one night. I took a picture of tracks of one that spanned six feet from front to rear. My neighbors who were hunters saw the cat and estimated it was eight feet long and weighed 350 lbs. There was a sighting in broad daylight on Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth, they recovered a hair sample as well. At least a dozen friends have seen them up close that I know of. There was a front page article a few years back in the Boston Globe saying that the State of Maine was covering up our healthy cougar population because it was bad for tourism, I think it is true, they always dismiss sightings out of hand. Also, maybe they didn't want endangered species screwing up land development.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Mark- nice post. It seems that Vt and Mass is trying to cover up the cougar sightings here too. I'm not really sure it has to do with screwing up building expansion or even tourism. I can't really say.
      I guess it is good enough for the people (who actually go outside of their homes and enjoy the wilderness) to see them. We know they still exist. We should just let the rest of these couch potato, negative posters on this forum to think whatever they want.
      I hope I get to see one soon. Many friends have been lucky enough. Enjoy life in Maine my friend.
      Let's be glad we are not stuck in NYC or where ever else these clowns on this forum live.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cesar

    Tom, I suppose that the whack job, tree hugging, leftist freak show freak/political activist at ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN, A-Mess NBC, the New York Times-Democratic, the associated (with terrorists) Press ET AL to declare that the Eastern cougar became extinct because of the "global warming" hoax will make such a declaration when he feels it is time to do so.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee1969

      You're an idiot.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Genius

    You're confusing the "science" you see on television with actual science. But hey, reading is really hard. So don't worry.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Genius

    Warning: This thread is full of idiots who hate educated people.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Matt

    There have been several cougar sightings here in VT and Western Mass over the past couple years. The state will not confirm unless there is a body or a photo. Even tracks are not good enough for these folks. There are very few but I do not believe they are extinct- not yet anyway. There are three problems- 1) They were hunted heavily 2) They have a huge range and are Very territorial- even with the large expanses of land there is still not enough habitat for them in the East 3) Disease also likely played a large role.
    Either way, I do believe there are a few left but not enough to sustain a growing population.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Catherine R Booth

    I think that the "sightings" are actually large house cats gone feral.

    March 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      House cats don't grow to over 5 or 6 feet long and more than 150 pounds

      March 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TheVictor

    RIP

    March 2, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lee1969

    Reading these comments, I understand why I don't normally read the comments. The last thing it is when a species goes extinct in "funny". It just reassures me of how many idiots there actually are in the world.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ed

    This is such a sad story! They look too delicious to be extinct.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    Hey look, the last eastern cougar! We need to kill it and mount it!

    March 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sheila

    We could introduce some Wester Mountain Lions over there and see how they fare.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Emily S.

    I used to live in upstate NY, and there were occasional cougar sightings in some of the rural areas, especially the Adirondacks.

    But, seeing a "cougar" does NOT mean you've seen the specific subspecies of "Eastern Cougar." It just means that, for whatever reason, you've seen one cat that's likely a different subspecies – animals can escape from zoos or private collections or (worst of all) illegal wildlife traders, or there's technically nothing preventing a Florida Panther from making its way up north if it's inclined to do so...

    Also, I don't doubt for a second that wildlife population distribution is extremely different in eastern Canada and the eastern US – anywhere west of Minnesota, you've got the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence river making up a very effective barrier between the two.

    March 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
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