The eastern cougar was a population of the North American cougar (Puma concolor couguar) that inhabited Eastern North America.
Some wildlife experts consider the eastern cougar a distinct subspecies from the western population. However, other experts believe that eastern and western cougars belong to the North American subspecies Puma concolor couguar.
European settlers extirpated the cougar population in the Eastern United States. Wildlife authorities declared the eastern cougar extinct in March 2011. Maine reported the last confirmed individual in 1938.
Although wildlife authorities declared the eastern cougar extinct in 2011, residents in Eastern North America continued reporting sightings.
Cougars are solitary predatory felids native to the Americas.
The eastern cougar is extinct
The North American cougar is a subspecies distributed over a wide geographical area in Western Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. They may extend their range to parts of South America northwest of the Andes Mountains.
North American cougars native to Eastern North America were known as eastern cougars. According to wildlife authorities, eastern cougars are now extinct.
The eastern cougar used to be common
The eastern cougar lived widely distributed in the coastal, mountainous, and forested areas of the Eastern United States. Locals called them various names, including panthers, mountain lions, and pumas.
Multiple media sources reported in June 2015 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that eastern cougars went extinct in the first half of the 20th century.
The only surviving population of cougars in the Eastern United States was the southeastern population of the Florida panther.
Western cougars are migrating eastward
Wildlife authorities reported that the last eastern cougar individual was killed in Maine in 1938.
However, researchers believe they went extinct much earlier in other parts of the Eastern U.S. For instance, the Department of Environmental Conservation reported that cougars may have been extinct in New York State since the late 1800s.
Wildlife authorities consider cougars recently sighted in the Eastern United States as western cougars extending their range eastward. Experts describe individual animals sighted well outside the normal range of their species as vagrants.
Bob Bancroft, a Nova Scotia wildlife expert, told CBC that the sightings were not due to the breeding population of eastern cougars reestablishing but vagrant western cougars extending their range.
Some sightings could also be due to pets that escaped from captivity.
Sightings and Tales
Reports of cougar sightings have recently come from multiple states in the Eastern United States.
Confirmed sightings have come from Tennessee. There have also been reports from New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Michigan, and other states in the east.
However, experts believed the animals were captive individuals or pets that escaped. But some sightings were due to western cougars moving eastward due to an increase in the population of their natural prey, the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus).
There were multiple sightings in Tennessee in 2015, including in Obion and Humphreys Counties.
The Jackson Sun reported in October 2015 that the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) confirmed that a photo taken on September 20 by a resident named Black Spencer showed a cougar in a hunting area near the town of Mason Hall in the south of Obion County.
Spencer, then a 19-year-old studying wildlife and fisheries biology at UT Martin, said he submitted the photo to game wardens at the TWRA, and they confirmed it.
He explained that he and his hunting companions set up a motion-sensor camera in a hunting area to obtain intelligence on the deer population but instead capture a cougar on camera.
The TWRA explained that the sighting was due to western cougars slowly migrating eastward.
Wildlife authorities also reported multiple sightings in other parts of Tennessee in 2015.
In November, a trail camera captured a cougar in Humphreys Country (see video below). Experts said the sightings indicated that cougars were moving into the West and Middle Tennessee areas.
There were multiple unconfirmed reports of cougars from New York in recent years. The New York State DEC reported isolated sightings in recent years.
A resident reportedly sighted a 140-pound male individual in the Lake George Area in 2015.
In 2019, multiple residents said they sighted cougars near Halfmoon in Saratoga County. Officials did not confirm the alleged sightings.
In 2022, a resident reported a cougar on Meadowdale Road in Guilderland, Albany County.
Several reports have come from Delaware recently.
Pamela Eppinger and Jim Coldiron
Delaware residents Pamela Eppinger and Jim Coldiron reported sighting a cougar while driving through Brandywine on an afternoon in 2021.
Coldiron told Delaware Online that he was looking into woods as the car sped along when he saw a cat a little bigger than a golden retriever.
Denise Kunzig, a resident of Orchard Valley, Pennsylvania, reported sighting a cougar while walking her dog at about 9:30 p.m. during the Thanksgiving season of 2021.
As she walked along, she looked up and saw an animal emerging from the woods. It crossed the road about 65 feet ahead of her.
The animal noticed the human and dog watching it after it crossed. It then began walking toward them. Kunzig retraced her steps quickly. The animal followed for a while before running into the woods.
Slightly shaken by the encounter, she stopped a neighbor driving past and asked them to take her home.
She said the creature was about 5 feet long. It had a tan color and a small round head.
A motorist killed a cougar on a Connecticut highway in June 2011. Genetic tests suggested the individual was a western cougar that traveled more than 1,500 miles eastward from the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Its journey from South Dakota took it through Minnesota and Wisconsin in late 2009. It arrived in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 2010.
The animal ended up roadkill on Wilbur Cross Parkway on June 11, 2011.
That was not the first time a cougar traveled long distances eastward from the Black Hills of South Dakota.
In 2004, an individual dubbed the Red Rocks Cat traveled over 1,100 kilometers to Oklahoma from the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The 2-year-old individual, weighing 52 kg, met an untimely death on a railroad track in Red Rocks, Oklahoma, in May 2004. It wore a radio collar that helped the wildlife authorities reconstruct its movement.
The discovery offered evidence that the western cougar population was dispersing eastward.
|Eastern puma, Catamount, El Leon, Ghost cat, Puma, Mountain lion, Painter
https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/03/science/earth/03cougar.html#:~:text=As%20a%20result%20of%20a,is%20no%20longer%20with%20us., “Eastern Cougar is declared extinct with an asterisk,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/field-notes/tennessee-officials-confirm-first-cougar-sighting-in-100-years/, “Tennessee Officials Confirm First Cougar Sighting in 100 Years,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/twra-warns-of-cougar-spotted-on-trail, “TWRA Warns Of Cougar Spotted On Trail,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.jacksonsun.com/story/news/2015/10/06/cougar-sighting-confirmed-twra/73464314/, “Cougar sighting confirmed by TWRA,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/02/eastern-cougar-declared-extinct-confirming-decades-of-suspicion/, “Eastern cougar declared extinct, confirming decades of suspicion,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.courier-journal.com/story/tech/science/watchdog-earth/2015/10/06/mountain-lion-seen-near-ky-tn-border/73440490/, “Mountain lion seen near Ky.-Tenn. border,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/eastern-cougar-declared-extinct-says-u-s-fish-and-wildlife-service-1.3116662, “Eastern Cougar declared extinct, says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/teneb/eastern_us_map.htm, “Eastern United States,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2011/florida-panther-03-02-2011.html, “Eastern Cougar Declared Officially Extinct; Florida Panther Still Has a Chance If Reintroduced to Okefenokee,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Potential-mountain-lion-sighting-in-Guilderland-17240612.php, “Potential mountain lion sighting in Guilderland stirs up debate,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2021/12/09/cougar-sightings-delaware-people-say-they-sure-what-they-saw/8887059002/, “More people say they saw a cougar in Delaware; this time they are positive,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mountainlion/mountain-lion-killed-in-connecticut-prowled-east-from-s-dakota-idUSTRE76Q5ZE20110727, “Mountain lion killed in Connecticut prowled east from S. Dakota,” accessed on March 30, 2023.
https://www.americanscientist.org/article/americas-cat-is-on-the-comeback, “America’s Cat Is on the Comeback,” accessed on March 30, 2023.