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.