Friday, March 02, 2007

Revisiting the Eastern Cougar

Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe announced the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has begun a new review, the first since 1982, on the status of the endangered and possibly extinct eastern cougar. The animal was placed on the endangered species list in 1974, 99 years after the last verified killing in Pennsylvania and a year when many game experts believed Puma concolor cougar was already extinct everywhere.
The news that FWS will re-examine the situation gladdens the hearts of researchers whose private networks have shared information on hundreds of Eastern cougar (or puma, panther, etc.) sightings for decades and unsuccessfully attempted to convince state game managers the cat was not extinct. A handful of verified events have led officials in Vermont and Rhode Island to conclude the occasional cougar is living in the wild, but there's continued debate about whether these animals represent escaped or released exotic pets as opposed to a true surviving population.
COMMENT: I've always thought it likely there probably are a couple of pockets, one in Tennessee and one further north, where a few animals just barely hung on out of sight of man. There may have been mixing between wild and domestically-raised cougars, which will ensure things stay confused for a long time. The population of deer, the Eastern cougar's favorite prey, has exploded throughout the East and especially in Pennsylvania, which is likely to lead to increased cougar numbers.

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