The Service believes the eastern cougar subspecies is extinct, and we plan to propose to delist it based on extinction. Because the eastern cougar subspecies does not exist anymore, it is impossible to “reintroduce.”
We have no plans to introduce other cougar subspecies to the eastern cougar’s historical range. The Endangered Species Act does not give the Service the authority to introduce a different subspecies into the eastern cougar’s historical range and protect it as the eastern cougar subspecies.
The 1982 recovery plan for the eastern cougar aimed to protect what existed of its population, not to reintroduce the subspecies to its historic range. The introduction of other subspecies to the historical range of the eastern cougar and the protection or management of other cougar subspecies dispersing or released into that range falls under the jurisdiction of the states.
No state or federal government agency has reintroduced cougars into the historical range of the eastern cougar.
Cougar subspecies: Traits, genetics and pets
The eastern cougar subspecies was differentiated by unique skull characteristics and measurements in 1946 from eight skulls of eastern cougars from museums. While recent genetic research suggests there may be only one North American cougar subspecies, a comprehensive analysis that thoroughly examines morphology (animal measurements), ecology and genetics has not been completed. The Service will continue to use the taxonomic classification of 15 North American subspecies until the completion of that analysis.
We encourage cougar biologists to complete a full taxonomic review of North American cougars, mountain lions, panthers, pumas, etc. Learn more about this in the taxonomic section of the review, which is available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar/.
In our eastern cougar status review, the Service found that many of the cougars documented in the eastern U. S. in recent years are of captive origin. Most states have strict regulations, holding requirements and permits to keep these animals in captivity. The release of captive cougars introduces threats to people and livestock. Please note that it is likely an infraction of state laws to release captive cougars into the wild.
Another note: Our new Florida panther recovery plan calls for the reintroduction of two Florida panther populations outside of Florida. The Service recognizes that reintroduction is critical to achieving full recovery of the species, but due to lack of public awareness and acceptance, panther reintroduction is not feasible at this time. The Service will work closely with state partners, non-governmental organizations and the public to identify areas with the potential for success before taking any steps to reintroduce the species.
A note from the Pennsylvania Game Commission:
Pennsylvania's last known wild eastern mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874. And, except for Florida, the eastern mountain lion is believed to have been extirpated from the East Coast of the United States by 1900. But, over the years, mountain lion sightings have been reported throughout the state.
The overwhelming majority of cases we investigate are proven to be mistaken identity based on examination of tracks, photos or other physical evidence. Some cases are inconclusive.
And, while some believe mountain lions exist in the wilds of Pennsylvania, we have no conclusive evidence to support such views. We have hundreds of thousands of hunters who are in the woods each year and no one has brought out a dead mountain lion yet. Trail cameras have only captured photos of bobcats, fishers and coyotes in areas that were alleged to be inhabited by mountain lions. No conclusive tracks, scat, hair or carcasses have been found. Some photographs are large feral housecats.
If someone does encounter a mountain lion, the most logical explanation would be that the animal escaped from or was released by someone who either legally or illegally brought the animal into Pennsylvania.
To demonstrate this point, the agency has received reports of other exotic animals being found throughout Pennsylvania, such as the binturong found on a Beaver County family's porch. A native of Southeast Asia, a binturong is also known as a bearcat. The animal escaped a resident in New Sewickley, who pled guilty to two charges of illegal possession of wildlife.
In 2001, news reports detailed sightings of an African serval cat resembling a small cheetah, which had been illegally possessed and escaped from its Pittsburgh owner several times before being confiscated (Nov. 2001); and two wallabies that escaped from their owners in Ambler (Sept. 2001).
Also, the number of confirmed (and captured) alligators has increased in Pennsylvania, including "Tony" the alligator that was taken from Italian Lake in Harrisburg and transported to Hershey ZOOAmerica.
There are hundreds of Pennsylvanians who legally possess exotic wildlife and follow all of the rules and regulations regarding public health and safety, as well as the health and welfare of the animal. However, there also are those who bring these types of animals into the state illegally and fail to follow the regulations. It is this group of individuals who cause us the greatest concern. One such individual was charged with illegal possession of a mountain lion in 2002.
Bottom line: we have had more confirmed sightings of alligators than mountain lions in Pennsylvania.
Lastly, when talk of "reintroductions" of predators, such as wolves or mountain lions, has referenced Pennsylvania, the Game Commission has been unequivocal in its opposition to any such efforts.