“Ghost Cat” Gone: Eastern Cougar Officially Declared Extinct

January 24, 2018 at 3:20 pm

80 years after its last sighting, officials say the iconic cougar of the Eastern United States is gone forever

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the eastern cougar from the endangered species list this week, because it is no longer endangered. It’s extinct.

The elusive “ghost cat” was first determined extinct back in 2011, but now the Service has made it official.

Eastern cougars — also known panthers or mountain lions — lived throughout the northeast U.S. and Canada.

“The cat first started dwindling when white-tailed deer, its primary prey, were nearly eradicated in the late 1800s,” reports the Smithsonian. “By the time the last known eastern cougar was shot and killed in Maine in 1938, locals already thought of the species as ‘the ghost cat.'”

Biologist Bruce Wright poses with the body of the last known eastern cougar in 1938. USFWS

To confirm the species non-existence, the agency completed a thorough survey of the region in 2011, looking for tracks, bodies, den sites and photographs.

“We came to the conclusion that the eastern cougar is likely extinct, probably since the 1930s,” Mark McCollough, FWS’s lead scientist for the eastern cougar, told the Scientific American in 2011.

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Environmental journalist John R. Platt blames their disappearance on over-hunting and agriculture.

“The large predators were seen as threats to livestock, which resulted in the cats being actively hunted and bounties placed on their heads,” Platt writes.

Even though the animals have been feared since white man made his way onto the continent, eastern cougars are still strangely revered as a vital part of New England culture and mythology.

“Cougars” and “Catamounts” are still very popular names for children’s sport teams in the region, Platt notes.

North-easterners are still constantly on the lookout for them, even though they’ve been told they’ve been gone for decades. Reported cougar sightings typically turn out to be bobcats, lynx and even large house cats, the FWS says.

Real cougars do occasionally show up in the Eastern United States, but all 110 confirmed cougars in recent years had escaped or migrated from different parts of the country.

“Some authors believe that as many as 1,000 cougars are in captivity in the U.S. and  Canada,”  McCollough said.  Finding real counts of captive cougars is hard, he says, because many are held illegally without permits.

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