Eastern cougar or eastern puma (Puma concolor couguar) refers to the extinct or extirpated population of cougars that once lived in northeastern North America,[1][2] which some authorities have considered to be a subspecies. The eastern cougars were unofficially deemed extinct by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluation in 2011.[citation needed] The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally removed the eastern cougar from the endangered species list and declared it to be extinct in 2018.[3] The Canadian Wildlife Service has taken no position on the question.[citation needed] Cougars are still common in western North America; individuals from that population are occasionally seen in the eastern cougar's former range.

Eastern cougar

Presumed Extinct  (2016) (NatureServe)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Suborder: Feliformia
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Puma
P. c. couguar
Trinomial name
Puma concolor couguar
  • Felis concolor couguar

History of taxonomyEdit

In 1792, Robert Kerr of the Royal Physical Society and Royal Society of Surgeons assigned the name Felis couguar to eastern North America cougars north of Florida.[4] John Audubon in 1851 believed that cougars in both North and South America were indistinguishable. The eastern cougar was first assigned to the subspecies Felis concolor couguar and the Florida panther to F. c. coryi.[5] Young and Goldman based their description of the eastern subspecies on their examination of eight of the existing 26 historic specimens.[6]

In 1955, Jackson described a new subspecies, the Wisconsin puma (F. c. schorgeri), from a small sample of skulls.[7]

A 1981 taxonomy by Hall accepted F. c. schorgeri, the Wisconsin puma, and also extended the range of the eastern puma into Nova Scotia and mapped the Florida panther's (F. c. coryi) range as far north as South Carolina and southwestern Tennessee.[8]

In 2000, Culver et al., recommended that based on recent genetic research, all North American cougars be classified as a single subspecies, Puma concolor couguar following the oldest named subspecies (Kerr[5] in 1792).[2]

The 2005 edition of Mammal Species of the World[9] followed Culver's recommendations. This revision was made by Dr. W. Chris Wozencraft of Bethel University, Indiana, as the sole reviewer. However, the publication's Web site as of 2011, as well as that of its affiliate, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, continued to maintain the Puma concolor couguar (both western and eastern cougars) as a subspecies of Puma concolor.[9][10]

Judith Eger, a scientist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario, and the chair of the American Society of Mammalogists checklist committee, believes that the Culver work was not a proper taxonomic revision, as it offered no evaluation of the existing subspecies of the puma and failed to include morphological, ecological, and behavioral considerations. According to Eger, the Culver revision is only accepted by some puma biologists.[11]

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) continues to accept the Young and Goldman taxonomy. "While more recent genetic information introduces significant ambiguities, a full taxonomic analysis is necessary to conclude that a revision to the Young and Goldman (1946) taxonomy is warranted," the agency said in 2011.[citation needed]

As of 2017, the Cat Classification Taskforce of the Cat Specialist Group recognizes only two cougar subspecies: P. c. couguar for North America and possibly northwestern South America, and P. c. concolor for all other South American populations.[12]

Uncertainty of survivalEdit

A consensus exists among wildlife officials in 21 eastern states that the eastern cougar population has been extirpated from the eastern United States. The federal government of Canada has taken no position on the subspecies' existence, continued or otherwise, and terms the evidence "inconclusive."[13]

The FWS reviewed all available research and other information, and concluded in 2011 that the eastern cougar has been extinct since the 1930s, and recommended that it be removed from its list of endangered species.[11] The agency used the 1946 taxonomy of S.P. Young and E.A. Goldman in defining the eastern cougar subspecies. While noting that some taxonomists in recent years have classified all North American cougars within a single subspecies, the agency's 2011 report said, "a full taxonomic analysis is necessary to conclude that a revision to the Young and Goldman (1946) taxonomy is warranted."[5]

The agency acknowledged the occasional presence of cougars in eastern North America, but believes these are of wanderers from western breeding ranges or escaped captives. Its review expressed skepticism that breeding populations exist north of Florida, noting, among other things, the lack of consistent road kill evidence comparable to known cougar ranges. However, the presence of cougars in the wild — whatever their taxonomy or origin — in eastern North America continues to be controversial.[14]

Various residents of eastern North America, especially in rural regions, have reported as many as 10,000 cougar sightings since the 1960s,[1] and many continue to believe the subspecies has survived.[14]

Bruce Wright — a wildlife biologist and former student of Aldo Leopold — popularized the idea that a breeding population of cougars persisted in northern New England and the Maritime provinces through a series of articles and books published between 1960 and 1973. Wright based his idea mostly on unconfirmed sightings, track photos, and plaster casts, and photographs of pumas killed in New Brunswick in 1932 and in Maine in 1938.[15]

Since the 1970s, privately run groups have formed in nearly every state to compile and investigate records of cougar sightings. Many of these groups are convinced that breeding populations of cougars exist throughout the region. Some believe that a conspiracy to hide information or secretly reintroduce cougars is actively underway by state and federal governments. Some endeavor to promote the recovery of cougars in eastern North America.[1] Large numbers of cougar sightings have been reliably reported throughout the Midwest.[16]

Possible colonization of the east by western cougarsEdit

At least several dozen or more reported sightings have been confirmed by biologists, many of whom believe they are accounted for by escaped captives or individual members of the western subspecies that have wandered hundreds of miles from their established breeding ranges in the Dakotas or elsewhere in the west.[17]

Eastern U.S. reported sightings, many of which reviewed in the recent federal report,[18] in various locations, including Michigan[19][20][21][22] (See Upper Peninsula), Wisconsin,[23][24] Southern Indiana, Illinois,[25] Missouri,[25][26] Kentucky,[25] Connecticut,[17][27] New York[28] Maine,[29] Massachusetts,[25] New Hampshire,[30] North Carolina,[25] Virginia,[25] Arkansas,[31] Vermont,[25] Alabama[31] Louisiana,[31][32] and Tennessee.[33]

Until around 1990, reports of mountain lions in the Midwest and East were highly influenced by the "Bigfoot factor", according to Mark Dowling, co-founder of the Eastern Cougar Network. "None of it was really real", he said in an interview,[34] but the situation has changed dramatically since that time according to Dowling, whose group collects and disseminates data on the shifting mountain lion population.[34]

Dowling said in 2003 that sightings in the eastern half of the nation, including Michigan, etc., were "almost certainly" escaped captives, but he added that the notion that (western) cougars "will eventually reach New Jersey" is a reasonable prediction, in part due to increased populations of white-tailed deer.[34]

However, some of these cougars found far in the east were established to be of western origin. As noted in an opinion piece by David Baron in the New York Times, concerning a cougar killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011:

"Wildlife officials, who at first assumed the cat was a captive animal that had escaped its owners, examined its DNA and concluded that it was a wild cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota. It had wandered at least 1,500 miles before meeting its end at the front of an SUV in Connecticut."[17]

Recolonization is entirely dependent upon dispersing subadult females, who typically range far less than subadult males. While subadult females with Black Hills DNA have been documented since 2015 in Tennessee, Missouri and Iowa, as of 2018, the easternmost breeding colony north of Florida is the Niobrara River Valley in central Nebraska.[35]

Canadian viewsEdit

A 1998 study for Canada's national Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada concluded "that there is no objective evidence (actual cougar specimens or other unequivocal confirmation) for the continuous presence of cougars since the last century anywhere in eastern Canada or the eastern United States outside of Florida."[36] Based on this, in 1999, the magazine Canadian Geographic reported that for the previous half century, a debate over whether or not Canada's eastern woods host a cougar species all its own has raged. "Now the answer appears to be 'no.' Experts say past sightings were cases of mistaken identification."[37]

However, the Canadian committee's website as of 2011 says that data are "insufficient" to draw conclusions regarding the subspecies’ continued existence, or even whether it ever existed at all.[13][14][38]

In March 2011, an official with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources stated that cougars are present in the province.[39] This official said individual cougars in Ontario may be escaped zoo animals or pets or may have migrated from the western parts of North America.[40]

As in the eastern U.S., numerous cougar sightings have been reported by Canadians in Ontario,[25][40] Quebec,[40] New Brunswick[25], Nova Scotia[40][41][42][43][44], and Newfoundland[45].

The privately run Ontario Puma Foundation estimates that 550 pumas are in the province and their numbers are increasing steadily to a sustainable population.[46] However, no evidence of breeding has been documented east of Saskatchewan.[47]

Extinction recognizedEdit

In 2011, the FWS opened an extensive review into the status of the eastern cougar. In 2015, the agency determined the eastern cougar no longer warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act and planned to de-list it. On January 22, 2018 the de-listing became final and they were officially declared extinct.[48] According to the Center for Biological Diversity, "The eastern cougar was extinct well before it was protected under the Endangered Species Act, as was the case with eight of the other 10 species that have been de-listed for extinction."[49]

Genetic studyEdit

In 2015, a group of students and scholars at the Pennsylvania State University formed a research group to sequence the mitochondrial DNA genome of this extinct subspecies.[50] The Nittany Lion genome project took samples from preserved eastern cougar skins to obtain DNA for sequencing and further analysis. Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences were obtained for five of the six individuals sampled, and the results were compared to previously published cougar sequences. The researchers found that "Nittany Lions are not more similar to each other than to individuals from the Western U.S. and Florida", which only strengthens the position that all North American cougars are a single subspecies.[51]


  1. ^ a b c McCollough, Mark (March 2011). "Eastern puma (cougar) (Puma concolor couguar) 5-year review: Summary and Evaluation" (PDF). Maine Field Office Orono, Maine: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p. 35. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
  2. ^ a b Culver, M.; Johnson, W.E.; Pecon-Slattery, J.; O’Brien, S.J. (2000). "Genomic ancestry of the American puma (Puma concolor)". Journal of Heredity. 91 (3): 186–197. doi:10.1093/jhered/91.3.186. PMID 10833043.
  3. ^ https://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar/pdf/Cougar_News_Bulletin_Final_1_18.pdf
  4. ^ Kerr, R. (1792) The animal kingdom, or zoological system of the celebrated Linnaeus. London, England.
  5. ^ a b c Young, S.P. and Goldman, E.A. (1946) The puma: Mysterious American cat. American Wildlife Institute, Washington, D.C.
  6. ^ Cardoza, J.E.; Langlois, S.A. (2002). "The eastern cougar: A management failure?". Wildlife Society Bulletin. 30 (1): 265–273. JSTOR 3784665.
  7. ^ Jackson, H.H.T. (1955). "The Wisconsin puma". Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 68: 149–150.
  8. ^ Hall, E.R. (1981). The Mammals of North America, Second edition. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
  9. ^ a b Puma concolor Archived 2011-05-21 at the Wayback Machine. Mammal Species of the World. Bucknell.edu.
  10. ^ "North American Mammals: Puma concolor". Mnh.si.edu. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
  11. ^ a b "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concludes eastern cougar extinct". fws.org. March 2, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  12. ^ Kitchener, A. C.; Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.; Eizirik, E.; Gentry, A.; Werdelin, L.; Wilting, A.; Yamaguchi, N.; Abramov, A. V.; Christiansen, P.; Driscoll, C.; Duckworth, J. W.; Johnson, W.; Luo, S.-J.; Meijaard, E.; O’Donoghue, P.; Sanderson, J.; Seymour, K.; Bruford, M.; Groves, C.; Hoffmann, M.; Nowell, K.; Timmons, Z.; Tobe, S. (2017). "A revised taxonomy of the Felidae: The final report of the Cat Classification Task Force of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group" (PDF). Cat News (Special Issue 11).
  13. ^ a b Boswell, Randy (March 2, 2011). "Montreal Gazette: U.S. officials declare eastern cougar extinct, despite sightings in Canada". Montreal Gazette, Postmedia News. Retrieved March 5, 2011.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ a b c Barringer, Felicity (March 2, 2011). "U.S. Declares Eastern Cougar Extinct, With an Asterisk". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-02.
  15. ^ Bolgiano, C. (1995). Mountain lion: An unnatural history of pumas and people. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ISBN 0811710440.
  16. ^ Suhr, Jim (June 14, 2012). "Study: Cougars again spreading across Midwest". Associated Press. Retrieved June 14, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ a b c Baron, David (July 28, 2011). "The Cougar Behind Your Trash Can". New York Times. Boulder, Colorado. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  18. ^ Eastern cougar declared extinct, confirming decades of suspicion, a March 2, 2011 CNN News blog post
  19. ^ Johnson, Kirk (March–April 2002). "The Mountain Lions of Michigan". Endangered Species Update. Ann Arbor, MI. 19 (2): 27–31. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  20. ^ West, Valerie (November 30, 2008). "Cougar sightings prompt dispute among wildlife organizations". Daily Tribune. Journal Register News Service. Archived from the original on March 4, 2012. Retrieved December 10, 2010.
  21. ^ Bolgiano, Chris; Roberts, Jerry (August 10, 2005). The Eastern Cougar: Historic Accounts, Scientific Investigations, And New Evidence. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. pp. 67–78. ISBN 978-0-8117-3218-5. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  22. ^ Butz, Bob; Tischendof, Jay W (Foreword) (2005). Beast of Never, Cat of God: The Search for the Eastern Puma. City: Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1-59228-446-7. 2005 Winner Michigan Book Award from the Library of Michigan
  23. ^ "Wisconsin DNR Wants Hearings on Killing Cougars". Eastern Cougar. January 26, 2011. Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  24. ^ "Wisconsin DNR Wants Hearings on Killing Cougars". Wisconsin Outdoor Fun. Associated Press. January 26, 2011. Retrieved January 26, 2011.
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  26. ^ "Mountain lion killed in Northeast Missouri". Hannibal Courier-Post. January 24, 2011. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2011.
  27. ^ On June 10, 2011, a cougar was observed roaming near Greenwich, Connecticut. State officials at the time said they believed it was a released pet."Mountain lion reportedly spotted roaming Connecticut town". Fox News. June 10, 2011. Retrieved June 12, 2011. On June 11, 2011, a cougar, believed to be the same, was killed by a car on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut. "Mountain Lion killed by car on Connecticut highway". CNN. June 11, 2011. When wildlife officials examined the cougar's DNA, they concluded that it was a wild cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota, which had wandered at least 1,500 miles east over an indeterminate time.
  28. ^ Van Arsdale, Scott (February 2008). "Big Cat Tales: Investigating Cougar Sightings in New York". New York State Conservationist. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
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  30. ^ McNeil, Kelvin (October 2001). "Some Little Known Cougar Sightings in New Hampshire" (PDF). North American BioFortean Review. 3 (7): 20–23.
  31. ^ a b c "Southeast Sightings". The Cougar Network. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  32. ^ Prevo, Robert (October 2001). "Arkansas "Black Panthers"" (PDF). North American BioFortean Review. 3 (7): 51–53.
  33. ^ Tennessee Officials Confirm First Cougar Sighting in 100 Years, Field & Stream
  34. ^ a b c "Mountain Lions Headed for Atlantic City?". Insight on the News. 19 (#17): 16–17. August 5, 2003.
  35. ^ Nebraska Game & Parks: http://outdoornebraska.gov/mountainlions/
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  37. ^ Harry Thurston (September–October 1999). "Can the eastern cougar debate be laid to rest?". Canadian Geographic. 119 (#6): 18.
  38. ^ Government of Canada, COSEWIC, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. "COSEWIC Species Database : Results 1–10". Cosewic.gc.ca. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2011-10-13.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ Mountain lion (Cougar), Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
  40. ^ a b c d McNeil, Scott (March 5, 2011). "Eastern cougars still exist, Ontario ministry insists: U.S. claim of species' extinction disputed". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on March 10, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  41. ^ MacDonell, Kevin (December 29, 2001). "Cougars in the Maritimes: Fact or Fiction?". Outdoor Nova Scotia. Archived from the original on March 25, 2012.
  42. ^ Scullion, Ronnie (December 2, 2003). "Review: The Eastern Panther – Mystery Cat of the Appalachians". Outdoor Nova Scotia. Archived from the original on March 25, 2012.
  43. ^ Government of Canada, COSEWIC, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. "Committee on Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada". Cosewic.gc.ca. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2011-10-13.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  44. ^ "Eastern Cougar, Nature Canada". Naturecanada.ca. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
  45. ^ "Newfoundland west coasters set up motion activated camera near Deer Lake in hopes of spotting cougar | CBC News".
  46. ^ "Ontario Puma Foundation, Ontario, Canada". Ontariopuma.ca. Retrieved 2011-10-13.
  47. ^ Klandagi/Cougar Rewilding Foundation: Correspondence with Manitoba/Saskatchewan biologists, March/2017
  48. ^ Laura Zuckerman (January 23, 2018). "Eastern U.S. cougar declared extinct 80 years after last sighting". Reuters. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  49. ^ "Eastern Puma Declared Extinct, Removed From Endangered Species List". Center for Biological Diversity. June 17, 2015.
  50. ^ "Does Your Mascot Have a DNA Sequence? School Boosters Now Use Science to Compete". The Wall Street Journal.
  51. ^ Evanitsky, Maya N.; George, Richard J.; Johnson, Stephen; Dowell, Stephanie; Perry, George H. (10 November 2017). "Mitochondrial genomes of the regionally extinct Nittany Lion (Puma concolor from Pennsylvania)". bioRxiv 214510.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit