Eastern cougar no longer needs protection, declared extinct

Western cougar

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is calling for the removal of the Eastern cougar from the endangered species list, stating that the cougars have likely been extinct for more than 70 years.

Biologists tried to track the stealthy feline for decades but the lack of scientific proof had left them stumped. Reported sightings in Eastern Canada continued to fuel the mystery surrounding the elusive cat. The Eastern cougar was designated as endangered in 1973, only to be redesignated as “data deficient” in 1998 because of the absence of scientific evidence.

Nova Scotia-based wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft told CBC’s Maritime Noon radio program it’s time to ditch the idea of the Eastern cougar as a subspecies.

“Basically, the animals that are here now may not have been that subspecies—that they’re moving from the West into Eastern Ontario and Quebec,” said Bancroft. Hundreds of sightings have helped build a mythology around the giant cat’s presence in Eastern Canada.

One theory is that the cougars used to be people’s pets and have escaped from their homes, which seems implausible but there is evidence from the U.S. and Canada that suggests otherwise. Looking at biological samples, Bancroft said the animals may have a wide variety of origins, with a third from South America, a third of North American ancestry and a third of unknown ancestry.

Many Maritimers, including Bancroft have reported spotting cougars.

Based on the number of reported sightings, the myth of the Eastern cougar may continue with its subspecies being reinterpreted. If the Eastern cougar has died off, it’s possible what people are reporting may be a new breed.

“If they basically have the same genes, then we should at least admit that we have cougars in Eastern Canada,” said Bancroft.

The public may review and comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove the Eastern cougar from the endangered list for 60 days before the service proceeds with the final ruling.