by David Strege
Mount of the last eastern cougar known to have existed. It was killed by a trapper in Maine in 1938. Photo: Northeastern Wildlife Station
There’s a good reason why the eastern cougar has been so elusive, however. It’s because the species no longer exists.
Therefore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has proposed removing the eastern cougar from the endangered species list, where it was first listed in 1973.
Numbers started dwindling far sooner than that, though. Most eastern cougars disappeared in the 1800s as immigrants killed them to protect themselves and livestock, as forests were harvested, and as white-tailed deer, the eastern cougar’s primary prey, nearly went extinct in eastern North America, according to the USFWS.
The last record of an eastern cougar is believed to be the one killed by a trapper in Maine in 1938.
The USFWS completed a formal review of the eastern cougar in 2011, examining the best available scientific and historic information, and getting input from 21 states and eastern Canadian provinces. It also reviewed more than 100 reports dating back to 1900 and concluded the eastern cougar no longer exists.
More from the USFWS:
Wild cougar populations in the West have been expanding their range eastward in the last two decades, with individual cougars 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. A cougar of unknown origin was also killed in Kentucky in December 2014.The USFWS has posted the proposal online. It will be available for review and comment through August 17 at Regulations.gov under docket No. FWS-R5-ES-2015-0001.
The Endangered Species Act is meant to recover imperiled species and their habitat, and since the eastern cougar is extinct it can no longer be protected