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. Mark Vondrasek

    So sad to see another animal die out. This is undoubtably the work of man. Makes me feel really guilty.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • lolz

      it died out 73 years ago, no one seemed to notice until a declaration was made. sounds like it no longer had a place in the world and was replaced by the subspecies that STILL inhabit the area.

      March 3, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      I feel no guilt at all, and neither should you. The same God that put cougars on the earth put humans on the earth, and holds humansin higher regard than animals. Humans are the ones that will persist til the end of days. As far as animals go, there is such a huge variety...remember this is a subspecies of cougar that has been declared extinct...a genetic variation of pre-existing cougars. There are still plenty of cougars in the world. The passenger pigeon died out in 1914, but pigeons still exist in huge numbers.

      Sometimes it's just time for a species, or a suspecies, to die out as its environment changes. That can be due to humans chasing them off, sure, or hunting them out of existence. It can also be due to a drastic change in the temperature, availability of food or water, etc. Humans are not at fault for every animal that dies.

      March 3, 2011 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
    • topspy

      @robert: Really? I suspect that if no humans were around, these animals would be just fine. Humans are responsible for almost ALL the ills of the planet. Get over it.

      March 3, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Troy from S'port

    In about 20 years the last north American cougar will die alone in some Miami nursing home and it will be none-too-soon.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. zahnbub

    Now is the perfect time to reintroduce the cougar back to the East. I think Central Park would be a great idea or the Adirondacks. If wolves are good enough for Yellowstone, cougars are good enough for the East. Where is the cry from the Eastern "environmentalists" demanding reintroduction? Definition of environmentalist= Whoever built their cabin last year.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  4. WVGal

    Anyone else find it aggravating that this article says so redundantly that its not the subspecies, yet fails to define what the difference between the animal being sighted and the subspecies is? Those of us who live where there are mountain lions know that there are always far more than you see, due to them being so stealthy.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tony Woods

    We've had valid mountain lion sightings in Kent, Putnam County NY in the past 10 years. But they're very few and far between. We've also had rumors reported of NYS DEC releases of mountain lions in this area to help control the deer population. They deny it, but they also deny the attempted release of Hal, the Central Park coyote, who died at their hands in California Hill State Forest.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. Austin

    Well, there's one less Mac OS.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  7. Steve

    The article does not describe the difference between eastern and western mountain lions. What is the difference? Are the actual different genetics between “subspecies” or are they the same and the animal was killed off only in this region of the world? It is sad, but not so sad if it still exists elsewhere…

    March 3, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. anthony

    i guess its our faults the dinosaurs and woolly mammoths died out too. give it a break. one day we will be gone its what happens get over it.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • stu

      actually, woollly mamoths are the first animal that became extinct that is being attributed to man

      March 3, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
  9. Kelly

    I wonder how long it will be before they debate cloning it using other subspecies of cougar as carriers.

    March 3, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. shipoffools2

    Stuff a cougar when ever you can.

    March 3, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mantooth

    Hey plenty of cougars out west and they're main prey, college aged boys, are thriving.

    March 3, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. topspy

    Man killed the dinosaur? What school did you go to?

    March 3, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. Cdn Jim

    Although this is a tragic, though unsurprising story, the demise of the eastern cougar has not even been debated for the last 30 years or so, many oif us who worked in wildlife research and education took it as a foregone conlusion, I was going to post some smart=aleck comment about "Mrs. RObinson" or Demi Moore, but then I read the comment from the guy who accused man of causing the extinction of the dinosaurs as well, and I was flabbergasted. What do we do with statements like these? Flame them, ignore them, censor them? The interent is a powerful tool to spread information and complete stupidity – it is not doscretionary. It spreads both with equal impassion.

    March 3, 2011 at 2:46 am | Report abuse |
  14. Name*james

    Sad to hear another of gods creatures will never be seen again. What next???

    March 3, 2011 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jerry

    We've still got 'em in Michigan.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:02 am | Report abuse |
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