Northeast Eastern Cougar Blog: Introducing cougars to the East

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

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.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
lol's Gravatar Cougars are not extinct... A while back 10-15 years the gov reintruduced a ton to where I grew up... they are flurrishing and breeding and everywhere
# Posted By lol | 3/9/11 10:30 AM
cowboy's Gravatar when the wolves disappeared in montana they introduced a foreign species,and everything is just dandy now. so why not just bring in some african lions to replace the cougars.
# Posted By cowboy | 3/9/11 10:31 AM
Kurth's Gravatar It never fails our fed gov. always hires bookworms to do research instead of hiring real people who don't have a bunch of letters after their name.I am 44 y/o and have seen several big cats in my lifetime all east of the mississippi. Most have been black and three were cougars and I live in Ky.I know what bobcats are too, these are real big cats and we don't need you putting more animals out on us mountains. Take all that wasted money and hire local people to do the hunting.Then you city people might get to see what really exist here in the woods.Thank you
# Posted By Kurth | 3/9/11 10:31 AM
Jeff's Gravatar The research of the moutain lion is false.There are more lions running around than in the past 10 years.Thanks to the PA Game commision.They are stocking them even though they deny it it is true. Along with the introduction of the Timber Wolfe. I am a abbot hunter.I seen lions that were hit by vehicles. I have 3 of them at my cabin,wiping out the deer herd. It is lie all around. There is very little difference if any from the eastern cougar to a cougar. So how can they tell from there reaserch on the cougar?
# Posted By Jeff | 3/9/11 10:31 AM
Harry's Gravatar What About the Cougars that were traded for wild turkeys with Canada and planted in Penna. About 20-25 yrs. ago?
# Posted By Harry | 3/9/11 10:31 AM
big cat believer's Gravatar I believe your wrong my husband and I saw a couger in our neighbors yard. in 2001 in Winchendon ma. What a beautiful animal. although we never saw it again, they are around and living in massachusetts!!
# Posted By big cat believer | 3/14/11 9:33 AM
J. Waylon's Gravatar I noticed the story of the extinction of the Eastern Couger on the Knoxville News-Sentinel Web site. I wanted to throw in a possible sighting to your list, just in case. I was driving down Sandbridge Road in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on my way home about a month ago and noticed what appeared to be a very fast wild cat running across the road. The area it was crossing was in the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge right before you get to Sandbridge Beach. The cat was medium sized, probably anywhere from 25-50 pounds, appearing very muscular and seemed to move with its front two front legs in unison. It looked grayish, with very fine short-hair or hairless.
# Posted By J. Waylon | 3/14/11 10:31 AM
Suzette's Gravatar I live in Eastern NC (very lightly populated in most areas) and was driving home 2 weeks ago from the Raleigh/Durham area when I spotted a roadkill along the side of I-40E in rural Wake County. No doubt about it, it was a cougar of some type-tawny, flat fur with a big ,square and blocky head. Ears were widely rounded at the ends and the body and head were much larger than that of a bobcat. I could kick myself for not turning around and driving back to take a picture! Reported to both NC and US Fish and Wildlife but have not heard a word back from either. My theory is that both agencies really know that cougars are around and about, but know that they are somewhat precarious as a species and so do not want them hunted, hence the "extinct" label. Also know of another very reliable sighting closer to home- The director of our county museum told me several years ago that a large cat as long as the width of her car jumped completely over the top of the car and ran into the woods.
# Posted By Suzette | 4/4/11 2:58 PM
Carmel.'s Gravatar <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.> The feasability study and suitable areas have already been researched and identified by the field Biologists: Nth Florida & South GA have been identified as possible panther habitat, there is no good reason for the agencies not to be pushing fwd with public education or reintroduction, it is time they got to work and continue with the business of restoring a healthy panther population, in fact over 75% of people polled for reitroducing them said yes to the panther. - I live in Florida and have read the studies.
# Posted By Carmel. | 6/13/11 8:56 AM
Eleanor Smith's Gravatar Well the scat I found resembles the mountain lion description best.
# Posted By Eleanor Smith | 10/16/11 3:52 PM
Bailey Age:12's Gravatar I'm doing a report on cougars and looking for info got any suggestions???
# Posted By Bailey Age:12 | 1/15/13 11:35 AM
Shay Eddy's Gravatar Just spotted a roughly 4' long cat. tail about 2' long. Looked grey or near black. Seen at night 20' away.
Spotted in birdsboro on 3/11/13 about midnight. Friend and coworker also spotted it in day light at cpl hundred yards.
# Posted By Shay Eddy | 3/16/13 11:20 PM
Mike L's Gravatar For several years I owned a property in Sullivan County near the Loyalsock State Forest. While driving down a remote road through the forest one fall afternoon, I observed a cougar walking across a field. My view was unobstructed. At it got to the other side of the field, it briefly turned so I had a clear view of its entire body. It was about 1.5 miles from my house. Three months later, I arrived at my house after a fresh snowfall, there was a set of fresh tracks that crossed my property. The animal actually had walked up to the corner of my house and urinated. The tracks belonged to a cougar.
In my opinion, The Game Commission won't acknowledge their existence for a good reason: If they admitted cougars existed in Pa, they would then have to "manage" them. It's simply easier to deny they exist.
# Posted By Mike L | 9/6/13 11:20 PM
jim quesinberry's Gravatar I was in Conklin NY Aug.7,8,and 9th,and there was a Cougar hit and killed by vehicle very recently,many people have pictures of the animal on their cell phones,so don't be surprised when it shows up on FB.
# Posted By jim quesinberry | 8/11/14 11:35 AM
Liz's Gravatar Yes, just like Suzette, we saw a small cougar dead on the side of the road just east of Magnolia-Kenansville exit on I-40 (NC) on Aug. 23, 2014. Did anyone else see it? Traffic was somewhat heavy and I could not stop.
# Posted By Liz | 8/24/14 9:37 AM