Eastern Cougar is Officially Extinct

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Laying to rest an unusual and confusing member of the cougar family, the FWS has officially declared the eastern cougar extinct.

Although the eastern cougar has been on the endangered species list since 1973, its existence has long been questioned. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) conducted a formal review of the available information and, in a report issued today, concludes the eastern cougar is extinct and recommends the subspecies be removed from the endangered species list.

Genetic testing in the last decade has shown that there was not much if any difference between eastern and western cougars. Even when setting a formal recovery plan in 1981, wildlife biologist were uncertain about how an eastern cougar would differ from a western cougar. For instance, the recovery plan is available here and on page 8 the author states:

The lack of reference specimens from a substantial portion of T.C. couguar's range could cause some taxonomic confusion as to the subspecific identity of any cougar found within the accepted range of F.C. couguar. It is uncertain how animals from the southern and western portions of the eastern cougar's range would differ morphologically from those of the northeast. ... The proper subspecific identification of any cougar found in the east may be difficult.


groovy mike's picture

they are out there

They are definitely out there so I guess they have just decided that there isn't much difference bewteen the eastern and western versions of cougar.

hunter25's picture

I do believe that there are

I do believe that there are cougars or mountain lions as we call them in the east but the debate about eastern or western sub species is mostly irrelevant.

brent93's picture

Im pretty sure I saw one in

Im pretty sure I saw one in Georgia about a year ago.. And living here in Florida I have only seen one panther. The panthers are very elusive and dont like to be looked at twice.

cowgal's picture

eastern cougars


This reminds me of the misleading "endangered species" propaganda in the Florida Everglades area over what they call the "Florida panther" - which is nothing more than what I know as a mountain lion. In fact, when I read up on the panther after visiting the Everglades a few years ago, I discovered that at times they've brought in western mountain lions to help prevent the in-breeding. Genetically there is no difference between the eastern, western or even the Florida lions. The feature differences observed I would attribute to the in-breeding. If I remember correctly some lions exhibited a cowlick in their hair on their backs, and kink in their tail, which was passed on from generation to generation, however that does not distinguish it as a distinct sub-species. To me these differences are not any different than the variations you see in deer or other species, depending on locality.

Some however are claiming that the cowlick in the hair and kink in the tail, mean it's a distinct sub-species, I say baloney!


Ca_Vermonster's picture

Ah, the major university in

Ah, the major university in my home state, the Vermont Catamounts.  Sad to hear it, but alot of people back there disagree.

There have been sightings all over New England, they can just nver confirm them.

The official line from the authorities is that if they are really big cats, then they are more than likely pets that have escaped or been released.  Obviously, as you can see in the article, they don't believe that any native population exists.

So I wonder, if a population from released pets actually becomes viable, much like released pigs, and become "wild", will they be recognized as the "eastern mountain lion", or will they be genetically different, therefore taking on the name of whatever regional (western) species they are?


Are They Or Aren't They?

The taxonomy and sub-species classification can be a pretty nit-picking, tedious activity with sometimes questionable value when done and subject to reinterpretation & reclassification.  Regarding the genetic differences between east & west mtn lions, the minimal differences as determined by the scientists would seem to make this a moot point & the delisting from the endandered species list would have possitive management benefits.  If the current east coast cats are recognized as migrants from the west, they can (hopefully) be managed scientifically instead of politically as an endangered species and without some Save-The-Current-Sacred-Cow organization attempting to interject their own personal biases into the equation via law suits and injunctions.

On a practical standpoint, it won't make a tiniest bit of difference to that whitetail or farm dog whether the teeth in it's throat are from a eastern or western lion.

jaybe's picture

Don't hold your breath on

Don't hold your breath on this one, guys. In a few years, someone may decide that one has been found, and they are not extinct after all.

In Michigan we just had an "extinct" strain of the Lake Herring reappear in Grand Traverse Bay, a large bay of Lake Michigan.

It had been declared to be extinct in 1960, but in recent years, biologists have been examining evidence that they might, in fact, still exist.

Here's the kicker - now that they have determined that they do exist, there are no restrictions on them because they are so close to other strains of lake herring that it would be virtually impossible for a fisherman to tell the difference. In fact, it took the biologists almost 20 years to come to a consensus on the issue!

The very same may be the case for the eastern cougar, as has already been mentioned. Minor differences are just that - minor. Though the scientific-types may enjoy splitting hairs over a cowlick (pun intended), it really makes no practical difference to anyone else.