|Alexander Crowell poses with the famous Barnard Panther, which he shot on November 24, 1881 at Barnard, Vermont. This was likely the last eastern cougar killed in Vermont. (Photo from the Vermont Historical Society).
Questions and answers
about the five-year review
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(Service) has completed a review of
all available information about the
eastern cougar, which has been on the
endangered species list since 1973.
The review concludes that the eastern
cougar is extinct. Although cougars
are seen occasionally in the East,
no evidence exists that they are the subspecies known as eastern cougars.
1. What was the historical range of the
The eastern cougar range extended
from Maine south to Georgia, west into
eastern Missouri and eastern Illinois,
and north to Michigan and Ontario,
Quebec, and New Brunswick, Canada.
2. Why did eastern cougar populations
European immigrants killed cougars
to protect themselves and their
livestock. Many states offered a bounty
to encourage the killing of cougars.
The white-tailed deer, the primary
prey of the cougar, was nearly extinct
in eastern North America by the late
1800s. The last records of eastern
cougars are believed to be in Maine
(1938) and New Brunswick (1932).
3. Why did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service initiate a review of the eastern
cougar, and what is its purpose?
The Endangered Species Act (ESA)
requires the Service to conduct a
review of each protected species every
5 years to ensure the accuracy of its
classification. The review is based on
the best scientific and commercial data
available at the time of the review. At
the conclusion of a review, the Service
can affirm that the species is correctly
classified, recommend reclassification
of a species (endangered to threatened;
threatened to endangered), or
recommend removal of the species
from the endangered species list. Any
change in classification must undergo
a formal rulemaking process, including
the opportunity for public comment.
4. Can the public comment on the
five-year status review for the eastern
There is no formal public comment
period on the 5-year status review; but,
the Service will accept and consider
information electronic mailed to Mark_McCollough@fws.gov. Decisions
are made on the best available scientific
and commercial information.
5. When was the status of the eastern
cougar last reviewed?
The Service has not prepared a formal
status review of the eastern cougar
since its recovery plan was published in
1982. The Service prioritized its limited
resources to protect at-risk species
with known populations.
6. Why did the Service write a
recovery plan for the eastern cougar
in 1982 when biologists believed the
subspecies was extinct?
Although no breeding population of
eastern cougar was known in 1982,
Service biologists at that time believed
it was possible that the eastern cougar
still survived in a few remote areas of
its historical range.
7. What would the Service consider
proof of the existence of an eastern
Even small populations of cougars,
such as those in Florida and North
and South Dakota, leave substantial
physical evidence (tracks, photographs,
scat, hair, genetic samples, road
mortalities, cougars shot or caught in
Service biologists assembled 108
records dating from 1900 to 2010 with
a high level of confirmation that the
described animals were cougars. After
careful examination, the biologists
concluded all reported cougars were
animals that escaped or were released
from captivity or that dispersed from
the western United States.
There is no evidence that a breeding
population of cougars occurs in the
eastern United States or eastern
Canada other than those in Florida
8. What would the Service consider a
viable population of eastern cougars?
The Service’s recovery plan for the
eastern cougar calls for at least three
self-sustaining populations in the
United States, each with a minimum of
50 breeding adults.
9. Why are cougars occurring with
increasing frequency in the Midwest?
Cougar populations in most western
states have been increasing in recent
decades. These are a different
subspecies than the extinct eastern
cougar. Cougars have reoccupied their
historic breeding range in North and
South Dakota and possibly elsewhere.
While individual animals dispersing
from western populations have been
documented in a number of Midwest
states, some of these animals could be
released or escaped pets. Although
young males may sometimes disperse
hundreds of miles, female cougars
normally do not move far from where
they are born. Thus, cougars are slow
to colonize new areas and establish
The Cougar Network documents cougar
confirmations, many of them east
of established cougar populations.
According to The Cougar Network,
cougars of wild origin have been
confirmed from Minnesota and
Wisconsin south to Louisiana.
|Credit: Mark McCollough USFWS
10. Will the range of cougars continue to
expand into eastern North America?
Cougars once had the greatest
distribution of any land mammal in
North and South America. They are
adaptable and can live in grasslands,
forest, desert, mountainous regions and
swamps. They require large contiguous
areas with adequate large prey to meet
their social, reproductive and energy
There are likely many places in eastern
North America with adequate habitat
to support populations of cougars. It is
unknown at this time whether cougars
will continue to expand their range
eastward. Given human densities in
eastern North America, the return of
a top-level predator such as the cougar
will depend on public awareness and
11. Will the Service consider
reintroducing other cougar subspecies
to the eastern states?
No. The Service does not have the
authority under the ESA to replace the
extinct eastern cougar subspecies by
introducing another cougar subspecies.
12. Can private individuals or
organizations reintroduce cougars to the
If the eastern cougar is removed from
the federal endangered species list, the
introduction of cougars to the eastern
states would fall under the jurisdiction
of the states.
13. What are the differences among
the puma, panther, mountain lion,
catamount, cougar and painter?
These are different names for
cougars. The different names are
interchangeable and do not describe
14. Has genetic analysis shown
significant differences among the
approximately 15 subspecies of cougar
in North America?
Recent genetic analysis has raised
doubts about the validity of so many
subspecies. But, a complete subspecies
analysis, including consideration
of morphology, unique ecological
settings and habitats, and geographic
distinctiveness between populations,
has not been conducted.
15. Is it legal to have a cougar as a pet?
How many cougars are kept as pets?
States have the authority to regulate
possession, protection and hunting
of species not protected by federal
law. Some people estimate that more
than 1,000 cougars are held in private
captivity in the eastern United States.
The Service’s review accounted for only
110 to 135 captive cougars in 15 of the
21 states surveyed, although it is likely
that many additional cougars are kept
as pets without authorization.
16. Do cougars pose a threat to humans
Like any wild carnivore, cougars can
attack and kill other animals and
humans. Big cats are usually secretive
and usually avoid inhabited areas.
However, cougars raised in captivity
and released to the wild may be poor
hunters and/or unafraid of humans.
They may behave differently from wild
cougars. We recommend caution and notifying state and local wildlife officials
when a cougar is observed.
17. What is the next step now that the
five-year review is completed?
Service biologists will prepare a
proposal to remove the eastern cougar
from the endangered species list.
The proposal will be published in the
Federal Register, and the public will be
invited to provide substantive scientific
information about eastern cougars.
Following review of the comments, the
Service will make a final determination, and that determination will be
published in the Federal Register. The
timing of these actions will depend on
funding and staffing availability.
18. If the eastern cougar is removed from
the endangered species list, will it be
legal to hunt or kill cougars found in the
historical range of the eastern cougar?
State laws govern hunting and killing
animals not protected by federal law.
Contact your state wildlife agency to
find out what laws apply in your state.
19. How many species have been
removed from the endangered species
list since the 1973 ESA was passed?
Of the species for which the Service
has the lead, 38 plants and animals
found in the United States have been
removed from the list. Of these, 13
recovered; nine animals were removed
from the list due to extinction (although
some were believed to be extinct when
they were placed on the list); and 16
were removed for reasons such as the
discovery of new information.
Download printable PDF version
Eastern cougar: Questions and answers about the conclusion of the review (March 2011) (PDF 256KB)
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