The eastern cougar, whose populations once spanned much of the Eastern United States and parts of Canada, was officially declared extinct and removed from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife on Feb. 22.
The eastern cougar is a subspecies of the North American cougar, a species which also includes cougar populations across the Western United States and Canada and the critically endangered Florida panther.
The decision comes after the agency’s 2011 review of the eastern cougar’s status and a 2015 proposal to delist the subspecies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicts the eastern cougar likely went extinct at least 70 years ago. According to the agency, the last genuine records of eastern cougars are believed to be from Maine in 1938.
Eastern cougars were likely predominantly wiped out in the 1800s, killed by fearful humans, destruction of habitat and a decline in white-tailed deer populations, a primary food source.
Nonetheless, the agency reports that local and federal biologists receive hundreds of reported cougar sightings a year in the East. While many sightings are misidentified species such as bobcats, cougars of other subspecies that have migrated or escaped captivity occasionally appear in the region. — Ashley Goodman