The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Concludes That The Last Eastern Cougar Was Killed Sometime During The Twentieth Century
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today announced its conclusion that the Eastern cougar, or mountain lion, no longer exists. The negative conclusion of a five-year USFWS survey of the issue is certain to be controversial: During recent decades, many people have reported sightings of cougars east of the Mississippi, and some environmental activists have claimed that wildlife agencies have ignored or even concealed evidence of the Eastern mountain lion’s continued existence.
Today’s finding will likely result in the removal of the Eastern cougar from listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA)—an outcome that seems destined to trigger further charges of government conspiracy. According to cougar-conspiracy theorists, official acknowledgement of a breeding population of Eastern cougars would cause inconvenience to governments and industries because of the measures that would have to be taken to protect them under the ESA.
The five-year review of the Eastern cougar’s status was headed by USFWS biologist Mark McCollough, who is based in Maine. According to McCollough, 90 percent of alleged cougar sightings in the East—and with the exception of a tiny remnant population of Florida “panthers”— are the result of misidentifications of other types of animals. The few authentic sightings of cougars in the eastern U.S. have involved animals that either escaped or were released from captivity, McCollough says.
In a 2007 interview with the editor of AllAboutWildlife.com, McCollough said there may be as many as 1,000 cougars living in captivity east of the Misssissippi.
However, according to the McCollough, individual cougars from the species’ Western populations occasionally stray into the East. In fact, one cougar, originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota, was shot and killed in downtown Chicago several years ago. It is possible that Western mountain lions could eventually recolonize parts of the East.
Although Eastern mountain lions have been treated as a separate subspecies of cougar, many wildlife biologists doubt that there were ever enough genetic differences between Eastern and Western cougar populations to warrant a subspecies designation.
Further information about today’s announcement concerning Eastern cougars is available here.