Northeast Eastern Cougar Blog : cougar

BBC news: Cougars make a comeback after a century of decline

Will they head east?

From the story:

The American mountain lion or cougar is now re-populating parts of the US, scientists say.

Their numbers had plummeted in the last 100 years because of hunting and a lack of prey.

Writing in the Journal of Wildlife Management, researchers say the cougar is now spreading far outside their traditional western habitats.

But they say the return of the big cats raises important questions about how humans can live with these predators.

Such has been the decline of the cougar in some parts of the United State that the US Fish and Wildlife service declared the eastern cougar extinct just last year.

For decades mountain lions were seen as a threat to livestock and humans and many States paid a bounty to hunters for killing them.

Their habitats were restricted to the areas around the Black Hills of Dakota. But in the 1960s and 70s the animals were reclassified as managed game species, so hunting was limited and numbers started to grow.

Read the rest at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18425472

Cougar Craze -- Resurgence in news stories

After a lull in the conversation of its existence, the elusive cougar has re-appeared in media across the Northeast. Why? You tell us.

Here's a recap of recent stories. Remember, back in March 2011, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that a specific subspecies, the eastern cougar, is extinct. We acknowledged that cougars of other subspecies origin have been seen in the Northeast, such as the one killed in Connecticut this past summer.

Cougar killed in Connecticut passed through northeast New York

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed this week that the mountain lion killed in Milford, Conn., in June 2011 was seen in Lake George, N.Y., in December 2010.

A resident of the town alerted NYSDEC after seeing it in her backyard on December 16. The following day, the state collected hair samples and took photographs of the tracks. DNA analysis confirmed that the hairs were from the same mountain lion killed in Connecticut and tracked through Minnesota and Wisconsin in late 2009 and early 2010.

A trail camera photographed a young cougar in Oconto County, Wisconsin, in May 2010, and another camera later captured the image of a cougar in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The identity of these is not certain.

The last confirmed mountain lion sighting in New York was a 7.5-pound kitten shot in Saratoga County on Dec. 31, 1993. Characteristics of the kitten, including lesions on the footpads suggestive of captivity on a rough concrete surface and genetics from South American subspecies, suggest it was likely an escaped or released captive cougar.

Tests reveal mountain lion killed in Connecticut was from South Dakota

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said Tuesday that results of genetic tests show that the mountain lion killed in Milford, Conn., in June made its way to the state from a midwest population in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Its movements were actually tracked and recorded through Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Tests also show that the Milford animal was likely the same on spotted in Greenwich. USFWS supervisory veterinary pathologist Tabitha Viner performed the necropsy. Google estimates that the story was covered by media about 500 times this week.

This mountain lion traveled a distance of more than 1,500 miles from its original home in South Dakota – representing one of the longest movements ever recorded for a land mammal and nearly double the distance ever recorded for a dispersing mountain lion. The state is waiting for results that may further identify how the cougar reached Connecticut.

Supervisory veterinary pathologist Tabitha Viner from the Service’s National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Oregon, performs a necropsy on a cougar killed in Milford. Credit: CT DEP

Read the press release and see a presentation at: http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?A=4013&Q=483778.

For more information on cougars and to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 5-year review on the eastern cougar from March 2011, visit www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar.

Contact Dennis Schain, CT DEEP, at 860-424-3110 for more information on the Connecticut cougar. Feel free to contact me, Meagan Racey, with the USFWS (413-253-8558), for information on the eastern cougar 5-year review released in March 2011.

Dead cougar found in Connecticut

After many decades of questioning its existence, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared a specific subspecies of cougar, the eastern cougar, extinct in March this year. The Service recognizes up to 15 subspecies of cougars in North America, and many other South American subspecies are popular within the exotic pet trade.

For the reasons outlined in our 5-year review (at www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar), it is highly unlikely that the animal killed in Connecticut is the listed eastern cougar. Our review acknowledges the existence of captive-origin mountain lions within the historical range of the eastern cougar. We believe this mountain lion is likely to be captive origin and therefore under the state's jurisdiction. We are partnering with the State of Connecticut to investigate the origin of this animal.

A few wild western lions have dispersed into the Midwest, namely a cougar that was killed in Chicago in 2008. If this were the case in Connecticut, we would likely have had more sightings from other areas as the animal made its way east. The closest verified populations of cougars can be found in Manitoba, Canada, North and South Dakota, eastern Texas, Florida and possibly Oklahoma and Nebraska.

*UPDATE 7/28/11: Tests have confirmed that this cougar was from a midwest population and was tracked through Minnesota and Wisconsin. This mountain lion traveled a distance of more than 1,500 miles from its original home in South Dakota – representing one of the longest movements ever recorded for a land mammal and nearly double the distance ever recorded for a dispersing mountain lion. The state is waiting for results that may further identify how the cougar reached Connecticut.*

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 cougars reported were of other subspecies origin, including other North American and South American subspecies, that escaped or were released from captivity or that dispersed from the western United States.

During the review, the Service received 573 responses to a request for scientific information about the possible existence of the eastern cougar subspecies; conducted an extensive review of U.S. and Canadian scientific literature; and requested information from the 21 states within the historical range of the subspecies. No states expressed a belief in the existence of an eastern cougar population.

Thank you again. Please continue to share your stories and visit www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar for more information.

Introducing cougars to the East

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.

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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.

Eastern cougar photo hoaxes on the Internet

We have received photos from readers that are part of cougar internet hoaxes. 

Below you will see  one of many cougar internet hoaxes. This same story and photograph has circulated in several states, including Missouri and North Carolina, but was apparently taken at a Texas game farm. This hoax prompted North Carolina's Wildlife Resources Commission to issue a news release.

This photo with accompanying e-mail was brought in to a DNR Service Center and was supposedly taken on a trail cam near Brodhead and the Avon Bottoms Wildlife Area in southern Wisconsin. The picture of a cougar with a white-tailed deer is in front of a deer feeding device and on bare ground, both right away indicating it was less likely to be in a wild situation in Wisconsin. 

 

 

Read more about cougar hoaxes at:

Check out what the media has to say about eastern cougars!

Google news search shows around 400 results for news stories about the eastern cougar review. We had around 30 press calls yesterday and continue to have calls today.

We have had close to 100 views of this blog, which launched yesterday. Almost 50 readers have already told us their cougar stories. Keep sending them our way!

Here’s a snapshot of stories on the big screen.

Associated Press:
Federal researchers declare eastern cougar extinct, March 2
ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The "ghost cat" is just that. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday declared the eastern cougar to be extinct, confirming a widely held belief among wildlife biologists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man a century ago. 

NPR:
Fish And Wildlife Service: Eastern Cougar's Extinct, March 2
The 8-foot-long cat once roamed from Canada to South America. The Eastern Cougar died out as its habitat disappeared.

The New York Times:
Eastern Cougar Is Declared Extinct, With an Asterisk, March 3
Seven decades after the last reported sighting of the eastern cougar, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service declared it extinct Wednesday and recommended that it be removed from the nation’s endangered species list.  

CNN blog:
Eastern cougar declared extinct, confirming decades of suspicion, March 2
The eastern cougar has been declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, confirming decades of suspicion that the elusive subspecies was no more.

Postmedia news:
U.S. agency declares Eastern cougar extinct, despite sightings, March 3
Did the cat come back? Or has the Eastern cougar -despite hundreds of reported sightings in recent decades -been dead and gone for 73 years? It appears the answer depends on which side of the Canada-U.S. border the question is asked.

Christian Science Monitor:
Eastern cougar declared extinct by US government, March 3
The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar to be officially extinct, Wednesday. The cougar is also known to many as the catamount, ghost cat, mountain cat, mountain lion, panther, or puma. The eastern cougar has been thought by many to differ from its western counterpart in its tawny color and longer tail.

USA Today:
Eastern cougar officially declared extinct, March 3
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has officially declared the eastern cougar extinct, 79 years after the last one was reported in the wild in the United States.

McClatchy Newspapers:
Eastern cougars no longer exist in eastern part of U.S., report finds, March 2
COLUMBIA, S.C. A study to see if eastern cougars exist in 21 eastern U.S. states has confirmed a long-held belief: The native cats are extinct in this part of the country.  

Daily Hampshire Gazette:
Eastern mountain lion declared extinct, but local observers skeptical, March 3
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that the agency's wildlife biologists have concluded the eastern mountain lion is extinct, but local believers said the declaration is contradicted by dozens of reported local sightings.

Thank you for your cougar stories!

Sketch of eastern cougarWe would like to thank you for your interest in the eastern cougar and the conclusion of our five-year review. We hope to continue using this cougar blog as a place where you can share your stories.

We recommend caution and notifying state and local wildlife officials when a cougar is observed. Evidence of cougars can also be submitted to The Cougar Network.

 

 

 

 

 

Credit: Robert Savannah

 

Here is more information about the review in response to your comments:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to do reviews of listed species every five years to determine whether or not they still meet the definition of endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. After doing our extensive review of the eastern cougar, we concluded that no evidence supports the existence of the eastern cougar. This conclusion does not reflect populations of other cougar subspecies, including those in the western U.S. and in Florida.

We acknowledge and understand that people can and do see cougars. 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 cougars reported were of other subspecies origin, including other North American and South American subspecies, that escaped or were released from captivity or that dispersed from the western United States.

During the review, the Service received 573 responses to a request for scientific information about the possible existence of the eastern cougar subspecies; conducted an extensive review of U.S. and Canadian scientific literature; and requested information from the 21 states within the historical range of the subspecies. No states expressed a belief in the existence of an eastern cougar population.

Please continue to share your stories and visit www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar for more information!

You may have seen a cougar in the East, but it wasn't an eastern cougar.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded an extensive review of all available information about the eastern cougar, which is on the endangered species list. Though many people have reported seeing cougars in the East, Service biologists have found no scientific evidence of the eastern cougar subspecies since the late 1930s.

They have concluded that the subspecies known as eastern cougar is extinct. The cougars that many people have seen in the East from Maine to South Carolina originally may have been kept as pets or for exhibition and originated in the West or in South American.

Service biologists will prepare a proposal to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list.

Please share your cougar stories with us by e-mailing them to meagan_racey@fws.gov or leaving them as comments on blog entries.

Bruce Wright, New Brunswick wildlife biologist and author, with what is believed to be the last eastern puma.
Credit: USFWSBruce Wright, New Brunswick wildlife biologist and author, with what is believed to be the last eastern puma.

See more at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar, including:

* News release about the review

* Questions and answers about the review

* Fact sheet about eastern cougars

* Podcast of endangered species biologist Mark McCollough discussing his work on the review

* 2010 review of the status of eastern cougars

* 1982 recovery plan

* Anecdotal stories from people who have seen cougars

* Links to other cougar sites

Welcome to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region’s eastern cougar blog!

Drawing of eastern cougar; Credit: Mark McCollough, USFWS
Drawing of eastern cougar by Mark McCollough
We will post your stories and comments about cougars here. Please leave them as comments on entries, or e-mail them to meagan_racey@fws.gov.

Check back often for updates, click through past entries, visit the "About the eastern cougar" page, and see our site for more information!

*Note: Stories, responses and comments will be screened and must be approved before being posted. Stories were originally posted on the Service's cougar site, but we will now post them here. See http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar to read stories from 2007 to 2010.