The End of the Line for the Eastern Puma
The Eastern Puma (Puma concolor couguar) has been officially declared extinct. The majestic large cats historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River. The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the animals extinct early last year, removing the Eastern puma from the list of endangered species for the last time.
The Eastern puma has been in trouble for the last 100 years. By 1900 they had all but vanished from the eastern continental US due to over hunting, trapping and the loss of habitat. In fact, Mark Elbroch, the lead scientist for the puma program at the big cat’s conservation group Panthera, said the cats have been ‘long extinct’. The Fish and Wildlife Service opened an extensive review into the status of the eastern cougar in 2011. The large forests and coastal marsh predators were only declared endangered in 1973, even though no sightings of the wild cats had been documented since the 1940's. The last Eastern Puma on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.
In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded pumas in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery, and thus no longer warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act. Four years later, they have joined the list of wild creatures that we will never see again.
Eastern Pumas were once one of the most widely distributed land mammals in the Western Hemisphere. They could measure up to 8 feet long from head to tail and can weigh as much as 140 pounds. After the onslaught of European settlement, unregulated hunting and continued persecution combined with a loss of habitat, the majestic cats are now no more.
Had they been able to survive into the age of modern conservation, the rebound of the continents deer population and modern forestry practices the big cats might have had a chance. Eastern Pumas are the genetic cousins of mountain lions, which inhabit much of the Western United States, and are related to a small, endangered population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.
Mountain lions have actually expanded their range in recent years. There have been 74 confirmed reports of mountain lions in Missouri since 1994, but the Eastern Puma has ended its long journey into the night.