The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the eastern cougar from the endangered species list.
The eastern cougar subspecies is believed to have been extinct for more than 70 years, according to the FWS. This comes after several surveys were conducted across the subspecies range, extending through 21 states and provinces in North America. The Endangered Species Act will no longer protect the animal or its subspecies, as it has officially been declared extinct.
Animals similar to the eastern cougar are either Florida panthers, western subspecies or animals escaped from captivity. No states provided evidence of the animal's existence. This eventually led to the proposal to delist the animal in 2011, and subsequently in 2015. The conclusion, however, is not solely based on states' evidence but on more than 100 verified studies that date back to 1900.
The eastern cougar likely disappeared from causes that aren't unique to extinct animals. Humans probably killed them either out of fear or to protect livestock. Similarly, the decrease in the whitetail deer population led to a shortage in food for mountain lions. The last known record of the subspecies occurred in Maine in 1938.
The western cougar continues to expand its home range east. A big cat documented in 2011 traveled from South Dakota to Connecticut. Additionally, a cougar died in Kentucky in 2014.
For clarification, removing the eastern subspecies from the list doesn't affect the Florida panther subspecies. The Floridian subspecies is also endangered. Thus, it is protected.
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