Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Is the Eastern Cougar extinct?

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has decided the answer is "yes." While agreeing there are some confirmed sightings, they have put all these down to escaped/released pets or, in states like Illinois, cougars sneaking back in from the west.
The obvious question is, "If there's a confirmed sighting and the cat is not caught, how do you know where it came from?"
The FWS experts rely on the theory that a breeding population should have left more evidence than we have, but I don't know. This is a pretty darned elusive animal. I suspect the extinction label is premature.


omegaman66 said...

I am pretty involved with cougar in the east. I have to agree that the eastern cougar subspecies is probably extinct. Other subspecies of cougars as well as some escaped pets have turned up trying to make a home in former cougar habitat.

Escaped pet cougars get the "blame" for lots of cougar confirmations but reality is most are not escaped pets but instead immigrants from other cougar populations. Most cougar deaths in the east turn out to be male cougars which are known for traveling hundreds of miles to establish their own territories.

I have a webpage devoted just to such confirmations.

Matt Bille said...

Thanks for the input. We are likely to see more and more cougars colonizing new territories to the east, as the food supply (given the population explosion of deer) is unlimited and the competition minimal. Wolves have been busy at this kind of expansion for a while now.
The collection of photos and other evidence on your site is great!
- Matt

omegaman66 said...

Thanks for the complement on the site. I was just (seconds ago) reading email correspondence with people from the cougar rewilding foundation! If all goes well the Florida Panther may be introduced along the Florida Georgia border soon. Soon being relative... like maybe a couple of years.

Florida Panthers number around 100 at least and if they aren't give a new home (currenlty they are maxed out where they live) they will suffer due to inbreeding and such. Texas genes have already been introduced which appeared to have helped.

The point being IF and it is a big if. If there are any eastern cougars left there are certainly a lot less in number compared to the florida panther. And the florida panther is struggling genetically.