By Flora McCarthy
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – a U.S. federal agency responsible for wildlife protection – finally declared that the Eastern Cougar was extinct. In fact, after conducting a four-year review, the FWS declared that the species had been extinct since the 1930s (official reports say that the last eastern cougar was killed in 1938 by a hunter in Maine). The cat was removed from the agency’s list of endangered species.
The eastern cougar was a subspecies of cougar found in North-eastern America, once recognizable for its particularly large shoulders and small skull. In its prime, the species had ranged from South Carolina up to southern Quebec.
That changed in the second half of the nineteenth century when excessive hunting of the eastern cougar and its prey by European immigrants drove the population into decline.
The fact of the eastern cougar’s total extinction remains controversial due to the continuous cougar sightings in the Atlantic Northeast. While the FWS’s review attributed such sightings to the occasional presence of errant western cougars or animals that have escaped captivity, many residents in the region believe that a discreet population of eastern cougars may remain.
The Canadian government, while acknowledging the subspecies’ extinction to be probable, could only term the issue ‘inconclusive’.
Although the eastern cougar remains a mystery, we can be grateful that its cousin the Florida Panther can still be found in the swamps of southern Florida, albeit in very small numbers.