Eastern cougar sightings. Does it exist?

Nowadays, there really is very little to say about the eastern cougar. And what can be said is in the past tense (but see below). The eastern cougar has been absent from New York state since the late 1800s. There is no longer any distinct subspecies of cougar in Florida since they introduced cougars from the west to bolster the small population in Florida and introduce genetic diversity, which must mean that we can no longer call the Florida panther a distinct subspecies. It’s been diluted to the point where the Florida panther no longer exists in my opinion. But that’s probably a technical and moot point which a person more expert than me can discuss in more detail.

Eastern cougar camera trap image

Eastern cougar camera trap image in public domain.

In an earlier discussion I explained why people are seeing cougars in eastern America. In this interest you please click on this link.

Despite the fact that I have stated that the eastern cougar can be discussed in the past tense, I have one page on my website about “Regular cougar sighting in North Carolina” which has gathered 141 comments. There may be something in that. I know that a lot of these commenters genuinely believe that the eastern cougar exists in their state. The large number of comments would appear to undermine the general view that if a cougar is seen wandering around eastern America it is an escaped pet or captive animal. We don’t know. The problem with sightings of large cats is that often they are mistakes. I know this from the numerous sightings in the UK of mysterious black panthers and other big cats which have always turned out to be domestic cats. If you want to read those comments then please click on the link below.

RELATED: Regular cougar sighting in North Carolina

The eastern cougar was proposed as being a specific subspecies but to the best of my knowledge it was never actually agreed. In any case it was declared extinct in 1946 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in 2011. The taxonomy i.e. classification of the eastern cougar as specified in 1946 is now in question. It seems to be academic in any case as the proposed subspecies no longer exists if it did exist in the first place.

As to sightings of the eastern cougar it would seem to me that where there are isolated sightings, they are going to be escaped captive mountain lions from licensed facilities (but once again, please read the comments from North Carolina).

RELATED: Introducing Mountain Lions to Eastern America Could Save Human Lives

Perhaps sometimes the occasional cougar living in the west of the country travels a long distance to the east seeking its home range. There was one sighting involving a wild cougar that travelled through New York state as it trekked 1,800 miles from its native population in South Dakota.

Also, there was and perhaps still is an argument about the classification of the eastern cougar taxonomically. As stated, it’s more academic nowadays. As at 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group recognises two cougar subspecies. One concerns populations in North America and possibly Northwestern South America and the other for South American populations. There is nothing in that conclusion to state that there was a distinct subspecies of cougar called the eastern cougar. The classification of the species is still alive and well ?. You’d think it would be settled by now with DNA testing.

P.S. the proper name for the cougar is the puma.

Comments welcome.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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