The Eastern Puma Is Officially Extinct, But There’s a Silver Lining for Big Cat Conservation

It finally happened on January 23, 2018. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern puma officially extinct, removing it from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

Yes, in many ways that’s devastating news. Somehow we let another incredible creature disappear from the world. Here’s the thing, though — the last sighting of this particular big cat occurred some 80 years ago. The eastern puma has been gone for a long, long time.

So why is the cat only being removed from the list of endangered species now?

crouching puma

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Previously, the eastern puma was federally listed as a subspecies of puma. Pumas — also popularly known as cougars, panthers and mountain lions — are the most widely distributed native wild land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They once could be found from Canada to Argentina, but hunting decimated their populations.

The last confirmed sighting of an eastern puma occurred in 1938, when a hunter killed the cat in Maine. The USFWS believes pumas were already largely gone from the eastern U.S. by 1870, and from the Midwest by about 1900.

This subspecies became an endangered species in 1973, but despite a number of purported sightings between the 1930s and 2010, no confirmation of its continued existence could be made.

In its delisting notice, the USFWS noted:

Although habitat conditions now appear to be suitable for puma presence in various portions of the historical range described for the eastern puma, the many decades of both habitat and prey losses belie the sustained survival and reproduction of this subspecies over that time.

The USFWS has decided, based on scientific analysis, that all North American pumas should be considered part of the same subspeciesPuma concolor. The sole difference between the “eastern puma” and its cousins in the western U.S. is the eastern puma’s slightly smaller head.

Today there are relatively few pumas in the eastern U.S., except for the critically endangered 100 to 180 panthers still living in Florida. In the western U.S., however, puma populations may be as high as 30,000 individuals.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Oddly enough, delisting the eastern puma may mean good news for pumas in general. Because these big cats are doing well in the western U.S., this delisting will make it much easier for conservation groups to repopulate the eastern U.S. After all, there’s no longer a need to protect the eastern puma from introduction of competing puma subspecies.

In fact, the USFWS says that here are now “large, intact areas of habitat with suitable prey resources and little human disturbance that could support puma populations” within the historical range of the eastern puma. Southeast, Georgia, the Midwest, New York’s Adirondack region, New England and the Great Lakes Region could also serve as potential puma habitat.

Eventually, scientists think western pumas will push east and repopulate these areas. Delisting the eastern puma allows humans to help this process along much more quickly.  One potential benefit from such repopulation is the likelihood that pumas will assist with control of deer populations. And that could well mean we’ll see fewer road collisions between cars and crossing deer.

Finalizing the official extinction and delisting of the eastern puma could go a long way toward helping others re-establish themselves.

Mourn for the eastern puma, but keep your fingers crossed for all the big cats still with us.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

116 comments

KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ ManyIssues3 months ago

Tfs

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Misss D
Shari F5 months ago

Hi Tara W, those photos are probably a different puma subspecies.

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Elaine W
Elaine W5 months ago

Glad there is a bright side.

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Michael F
Michael Friedmann5 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Bill E
Bill Eagle5 months ago

I am always happy to see "silver linings."

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer5 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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