This Wednesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct and is now moving forward with plans to remove them from the Endangered Species Act.
While many suspected that cougars, otherwise known as catamount, mountain cat, mountain lion, panther, or puma, had been wiped out in the east for a while, others believed they were still here eluding humans as to their whereabouts, which lead to their nickname “ghost cat.”
At least 108 sightings have been reported between 1900 and 2010, although none of them were confirmed. Most were believed to have been western cougars spotted during migration, or domesticated or captive cougars that got loose.
In 2007, the UWFWS began a review of trail cameras, eyewitness accounts and road kill reports and is now confident that the eastern cougar is extinct. It’s been 70 years since the last confirmed sighting in Maine.
Eastern cougars once thrived, but became the victims of overzealous hunting and bounties and also suffered from a decline of white-tailed deer, their main prey, which lead to their decline. They were added to the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
The loss of a top predator has lead to a vast increase in deer populations and a decline in forest health in the east. Some experts believe that the western cougar will eventually makes its way east to fill in the gap.
Others including organizations, such as the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, would like to see a reintroduction of wolves and cougars, but expect that suggestions or plans to do so would meet opposition.
“Our ecosystems are collapsing up and down the East Coast, and they’re collapsing because we have too many white-tailed deer,” said Christopher Spatz, the organizations president. “Our forests are not being permitted to regenerate.”
He added that cougars and wolves would naturally thin the deer herd through direct predation while also acting as “natural shepherds,” forcing deer to become more vigilant and “stop browsing like cattle.”
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