The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated today that the eastern cougar (puma concolor cougar) is officially extinct. Biologists have claimed for years that the cougar native to the Eastern U.S. was wiped from existence nearly 100 years ago, but only now—after a final review—are they certain.
This breed—otherwise known as the panther, puma, catamount, or mountain lion—still exists in captivity and has been sighted more than 100 times since 1900. However, these sightings were determined to be of animals who had either been released from captivity or had migrated to the East from the West Coast. In the last two years, no sightings have been recorded.
The review process has turned up some controversy, with people debating whether or not they’d seen the animal in the wild. “If there were cougars surviving in the wild, or had somehow survived since European contact, there would be a lot of signs of those animals, a lot of evidence they are present,” said Mark McCollough, a biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who led the review.
Eastern cougars have been on the endangered species list since 1973, but researchers believe the last one to exist in its natural habitat was killed in 1938—a time in which several states conducted bounties to catch and kill members of the breed.
In a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chief of Endangered Species Martin Miller said:
“We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar. However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.”
Contributing factors to the extinction of this mountain cat include the decline of white-tailed deer (the cougars’ main prey) and the bounties that occurred in the early 1900s. Since the wild eastern cougars’ demise, the environment has suffered: The deer population has risen to an alarming rate, which has caused the vitality of forests on the East Coast to decrease.
Meanwhile, the western breed of the cougar—which is genetically the same as the extinct species—is safe: They have been growing in number and have spread their population across several states in recent decades.
(Via Huffington Post)