The eastern cougar has now been officially declared extinct and removed from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. The large cats, which lived in states east of the Mississippi River and in eastern Canada for thousands of years, have not been seen in nearly eight decades.
Meagan Racey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) told NCPR News: “Essentially we really are correcting something that listed a species despite its having gone extinct many, many decades ago, even before the Endangered Species Act was even enacted in 1973. The last record we have of eastern cougars is actually from Maine in 1938.”
The eastern cougar was unofficially declared extinct in 2011 after an investigation into the animal’s status by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency explained in a press release: “Accounts suggest that most eastern cougars disappeared in the 1800s, killed out of fear for human and livestock safety and were victims of massive deforestation and overharvesting of white-tailed deer, the cougar’s primary prey.”
The eastern cougar is one of 11 subspecies of mountain lions native to North America. In the last two decades, mountain lions in the western United States have been expanding their range eastward into the Midwest.
The USFWS stated: “While individual cougars have been confirmed throughout the Midwest, evidence of wild cougars dispersing farther east is extremely rare. In 2011, a solitary young male cougar traveled about 2,000 miles from South Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York, and was killed on a Connecticut highway.”
Michael Robinson is a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. He explained that cougars are necessary for a healthy ecological balance because they help control deer populations and curb tick-borne diseases.
“Eastern states should move quickly to reintroduce these magnificent animals, which play such a critical role in controlling deer herds,” said Robinson.