Cougars in Eastern USA are Florida Panthers, Escaped Captives or Have Dispersed from the West

The Eastern Cougar has been extinct in America for at least 70 years. However, it remained on the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife despite being classified as extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It looks as though the authorities, in their hearts, had decided that this beautiful wild cat species was extinct in the East in America but were not until now 110% sure. However, on 22 January 2018 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a news bulletin in which they state that the long extinct Eastern Cougar is to be removed from the endangered species list which corrects a ‘lingering anomaly’.

Regular cougar sighting in North Carolina

The removal of this extinct subspecies from the endangered species list takes effect on 22nd February 2018. As the species is extinct and no longer exists in the East, if you see a cougar I wonder whether it is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Extinct animals and plants cannot be protected under this Act. On this website quite a lot of visitors have reported sightings of cougars in the East. Some of them are good sightings at close range. Under this new edict these cats must be either wandering males from the west looking for a home range or escaped captive animals or Florida Panthers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have received hundreds of reports from the public suggesting that the Eastern Cougar is not extinct. However, during a 2011 review and a subsequent 2015 proposal to delist the cat, no states or provinces provided evidence of its existence. They argue that many sightings are probably mistakenly identified bobcats or other animals.

The conclusion that this cat is extinct in America is based upon a review of more than 100 credible studies dating back to 1900. It seems that most Eastern Cougars disappeared in the 1800s. They were killed out of fear for human and livestock safety. They were also victims of massive deforestation and overharvesting of whitetail deer which is the cougar’s primary prey. The last official records of eastern cougars date from 1938 in Maine and 1932 in New Brunswick.

An example, but a rare one, of a male cougar traveling from the West occurred in 2011. The cat traveled about 2,000 miles from South Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York and was sadly killed on a Connecticut highway. The Florida Panther is a separate species and therefore is unaffected by the delisting of the Eastern Cougar. The Florida panther is listed as endangered.

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