Mountain lion in Oregon. Photo by: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The U.S. government has declared the Eastern cougar extinct more than 80 years after its a believed a hunter in Maine wiped out the last individual. Scientists still dispute whether the Eastern cougar was a distinct subspecies, but either way officials believe the original population that roamed much of the Eastern U.S. and Canada is gone—and has been for decades. Given this, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has asked to remove the species from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Federal officials spent four years going through data on the Eastern cougar and determined that current sightings of cougars, or mountain lions, in the eastern region of the U.S. are most likely animals traveling from western states or north from Florida. Other individuals may have escaped from captivity.
“We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar,” said Martin Miller with the FWS in 2011. “However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.”
The Eastern cougar was decimated by overhunting, trapping, habitat loss and a decline in its most important prey: the white-tailed deer. The animal was likely extremely rare by the early 20th Century and likely vanished in the 1930s.
Canada still considers the existence of the Eastern cougar “inconclusive.”