Normally, it’s wonderful when an animal is removed from the endangered species list, but not when it’s because the animal has gone completely extinct. This is the case with the Eastern Cougar, whose last sighting was almost 80 years ago. As of today, the animal is no more. Officially.
The wild predatory cat — also known as the puma, mountain lion, or panther — once called North America from Michigan to South Carolina its home, but historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River until trapping and hunting caused its endangerment as early as 1900. Thus, the extinction has been coming for awhile, and the continual destruction of animal’s natural habitat all but assured it. The last of the Eastern Cougars on record was killed by a hunter in 1938, but hoping that there might be some more out there (as cougars are generally hard to track, since they travel alone and in the dark), the feline was placed on the endangered list in 1973, three decades after the last sighting.
This removal from the list is interesting on numberous levels. Many believe that the subspecies was a misnomer in the first place and that any recently reported cougars in the east were simply roaming Western Cougars. Meanwhile, the Florida Panther — one of the nation’s most endangered animals — remains on the endangered species list.
There is still hope for the Eastern Cougar, however, because Western cougars seem to be migrating east — which would lead to a new directional classification. However, the only specimens that have been spotted are males, which are known to roam further. Meanwhile, as subordinate predators (in danger of bears and wolves), cougars are still subject to being eaten.
We can only hope the eastern population replenishes and that Western Cougars provide new mates for the Florida subspecies, but it may take as long as ten years for this to happen. In the meantime, we’ll hopefully try and do better to provide a safer, happier place for our animals (no matter what the national government has planned) so taking animals off the endangered species list as “extinct” doesn’t become a theme.