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Eastern cougars which once prowled North America are declared extinct

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Looks like another one bites the dust. As the Eastern cougars that once prowled North America are declared extinct. The Easter cougar was removed from the U.S. endangered species list on Monday. It has been 8 decades since the last confirmed sighting.

As you know, the large cats are also known as mountain lions, pumas or panthers. They once historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River. However, by 1900 they had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2011, the agency opened an extensive review into the status of the Eastern cougar. The Eastern cougar is a genetic cousin of the mountain lions.

Then in 2015, wildlife biologists concluded that pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery, and thus no longer warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The plan to de-list them became final on Monday.

Eastern cougars preyed mostly on white-tailed deer in forest and on the coastal marshes. They were declared endangered in 1973. Although, no sightings of Eastern cougars had been documented for 3 decades. It seems the last of their kind on record was killed in Maine in 1938.

Cougar measure up to 8 feet long from head to tail. They can also weigh as much as 140 pounds. Cougars were once the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Of course that was before extermination campaigns and habitat destruction saw them eliminated from their range.

Conservation groups said removal of the Eastern puma from the endangered species list clears the way for states like New York to re-establish a mountain lion presence.

However, in Maine, the state has already decided to put the animals on their extinct list.

‘We need large carnivores like cougars, which would curb deer overpopulation and tick-borne diseases that threaten human health, so we hope Eastern and Midwestern states will reintroduce them,’ Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Surprisingly, some scientists say, this removal could be a good thing. Cougars have a long, complicated history of existence in North America, but conservationists see a future where that’s not the case.

In a statement about the removal, U.S. Fish and Wildlife characterized Eastern cougars as long extinct.

“There was never any real justification for giving it that status in the first place,” says Mark Elbroch, the lead scientist for the puma program at the big cats conservation group Panthera. “There are even scientists arguing it should be removed for taxonomical error.”

According to Elbroch, whether or not this can be really characterized as an extinction,  depends on how loosely you use that term. While cougar populations in this region have declined to the point of non-existence, it’s more accurate to say only a certain population of the North American cougar species overall has vanished.

In a statement about the de-listing, Robinson called on state governors to come up with local protections for the animals.

“It removes all those loopholes and complications of introducing a species where they’re listed as endangered,” notes Elbroch. “This will allow states to be in control of that process.”

Now, it seems the Western cougar populations are heading east. Once documented only west of the Rockies, Western cougars have been popping up in the Midwest, and some males have even been found closer to the East Coast. Male cougars are known to roam large distances in search of territory or mates, but when females are spotted in the East, it would be one sign of a rebounding population, says Elbroch.

“We won’t see it in the next 10 years,” he suspects. “So therefore, reintroductions are good viable alternatives.”

“There is ecological havoc that has been created by deer not having any of their natural predators,” he says of the rapidly growing white-tailed deer populations in the East.

As you can guess, a decline in large predators is partially responsible for growing deer numbers. With a growing number of deer, comes a growing concern for ticks and lime disease.

So, with the reintroduction of new predators will eventually come the decrease in lime disease.

Resources: Daily Mail, National Geographic

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